Time to enjoy Ohanami in Japan

Hanami in Tokyo

Ohanami is the traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of cherry blossoms. Not only is it an indicator that spring has officially arrived, it’s also seen as unique part of Japanese culture dating back more than a thousand years.

What is Ohanami?

Translated literally Ohanami means ‘looking at flowers’. Although ‘hana’ is a general term for flowers, in this context it usually refers to cherry blossoms, which are the national flower of Japan, or plum tree (flower).

Cherry blossom

After the dark, cold winter months in Japan, the blooming of the cherry blossoms signals the start of spring. The custom sees people enjoying public picnics with friends and family underneath the trees.

Japan is geographically a long island stretching from North to South. The cherry blossoms start blooming in the South, advancing North, in what is called ‘Cherry Blossom front (桜前線・・さくらぜんせん)’. It can be anytime from the end of March in Kyushu to the beginning of May in Hokkaido.

People enjoying Hanami

Juniors at companies are often tasked with going to places to ‘reserve’ and claim space til the end of the working day, so their seniors have the best places to sit and enjoy the custom.

History of Ohanami

This unique part of Japanese culture is hundreds of years old. Ohanami is said to have started during the Nara period (710-794). However, during this time it was the ume blossoms that people admired. By the Heian period (794-1185), cherry blossoms where attracting more attention and Ohanami became synonymous with these trees, with cherry blossoms appearing in many waka poems and the flower becoming a national image to the Japanese. During the Edo period (1603-1868), more trees were planted in various locations, with the general population beginning to enjoy the beauty of cherry blossoms. This then led to the modern customs of Ohanami.

Modern day Ohanami

Ohanami is now an annual event, with everyone coming together to have picnics under the cherry blossoms. In parks, you can find food stalls, and bigger events may offer live music and dance shows. Many people will also try to photograph the beautiful cherry blossoms, with amateur photographers competing for the best photo spot. The custom often goes into the night, for ‘yozakura’, meaning to admire the sakura at night. During the evening must places are lit up with decorative lanterns and spot lights.

Hanami in Japan

Due to the pandemic, Ohanami has been banned for the last two years. Hopefully it will resume for viewing soon. We strongly recommend anyone to visit this time of year and immerse themselves in the cultural spring festival.

SOAS Language Centre offers quality teaching in a wide range of languages including Japanese to SOAS students and the general public. They also provide bespoke language training for diverse organisations. They have proven expertise in making the learning of languages practically useful, highly enjoyable and accessible to people from all walks of life. SOAS staff and students get a 25% discount and alumni get a 10% discount on all short language courses.

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