Hanami: Flowers and Fun!
Hanami Festival in 1834
Do you like spring? Of course you do! Do you like parties? Who doesn't? Then you would love a visit to Japan during the Hanami festival!
Hanami is the Japanese tradition of enjoying the beauty of flowers ... specifically the cherry blossoms called "sakura." The flowers are pretty, but more importantly they are a metaphor for life - they appear in a burst of beauty then quickly die, reminding us that life is short and we should enjoy the beauty of our own lives, now!
The tradition is said to have started around 700 AD. The first blossoms to be honored were plum blossoms, but soon cherry blossoms took center stage and the Hanami festival became synonymous with cherry blossoms.
In the early days it was believed that spirits, called Kami, lived in the cherry trees, and during the Hanami festivals offerings were made to the trees and spirits. In addition, the blossoms were used to predict the success or failure of the upcoming rice planting season. The offerings were followed by food and sake, a rice wine that was served with great ceremony.
Emperor Saga (reigning from 809 to 823) gave the festival a more artistic flair, encouraging writing poems in tribute to the blossoms' beauty, a tradition that still continues today. An artistic kind of guy, he was also a calligrapher and a poet and is said to be the first Japanese Emperor to drink tea!
Hanami Festival in 1894
The first Hanami celebrations were only for the aristocrats, but within a few generations it became a festival for the people. Today it is celebrated with food, sake, music and poetry writing. Think of it as an outdoor music festival - with flowers!
Modern Hanami Festival
Japan is a long and narrow group of islands, with very different climates in the north versus the south. The cherry blossoms of Japan don't all bloom simultaneously, earlier in spring in the south, and later in the north. So how does one keep track of the budding trees? Weather reports on TV and in newspapers include the "Cherry Blossom Front" reporting on where the blossoms are blooming and predicting when they will blossom in your neighborhood. The Cherry Blossom Front is serious business, with 59 specific sample trees selected across the country (and "junior trees" on call ready to be promoted to "sample tree" if a tree unexpectedly dies or becomes damaged). The Day of Opening is announced when the sample tree has five or six opened flowers, and the Day of Full Bloom is when 80% of the sample tree's flowers have opened.
When the Day of Full Bloom arrives there is a rush to find the perfect spot under the cherry blossoms. In crowded modern cities some people arrive at public parks hours or even days ahead to stake out the ideal location.
If you can't make it to Japan this spring you can enjoy the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. In 1912 Japan gave 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the U.S. to celebrate the friendship between the two countries. They were planted in Washington DC, and in 1965 another 3,800 were gifted to the U.S. Washington DC celebrates annually with the four-week National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The best way to celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossoms is by wearing your Spring in Japan socks ... the first sock in our new World Traveler Sock of the Month series! These delightful toe up socks feature an exquisite blossom lace pattern that runs up the front of the sock, with a smaller blossom running up the back. And you don't need to follow the Cherry Blossom Front report - you can wear them every day!
Happy Knitting! ... Scout