Cherry Blossom Viewing- A “How To” Guide for the Novice

I`ve been remiss as a blogger covering Japan given my lack of attention to “Hanami”- loosely translated as “viewing of cherry blossoms.” I`ve felt a hesitation to do so given the ubiquitous coverage and adoration piled upon the petaled pink crack however, there are vital cultural aspects which must be highlighted prior to embarking upon a Hanami session solo or with a group of novice friends. Following these instructions will at best garner an invitation to join a tarp and at worst prevent the appearance of a tourist intent on a photo-op.

Warning: The behavior described below is not typical. During this two weeks of the year, New Orleans and Tokyo become sister cities in every aspect, thus placing them firmly in Ouisar-san`s “Top 10 Most Entertaining Cities to Visit.” Instead of fighting over beads thrown from parade floats, people of all nationalities vie for the best position under the trees.

1) It will be crowded. It will be loud. You and the 31 million other people living in Tokyo will all be in the same park at once.

On any given day in Japan, the most populated city in the world is also dead silent. No traffic noise, no honking, just the high-pitched screeching of Ouisar-san yelling at her Offspring to bring the breakfast dishes to the kitchen. I recently complained to my Japanese sensei that I speak decent Japanese, but I can`t understand a word of it- maybe because I can`t hear anyone talking back to me.

Except during Hanami.

Every person in Japan abandons ship, drops all scheduled activity at the first ear drum shattering pop of a cherry blossom, snaps the blinds shut, hangs the “Closed” sign, buys a bottle of sake and a bento and trains, bikes, walks, hops, limbos, pogo sticks or uni cycles toward the cherry blossom viewing spot of their choosing.

Just like a feast fit for a Dr. Seuss banquet, most bring at least one of their clang clangers, robot bing bongers, heli pod pounders, and any other assortment of the loudest instruments banned by their apartment complex. Add to this mix of pitifully played loud instruments the sound of 31 million residents rejoicing in various octaves and pitches a cacophony of different songs simultaneously sung and any visitor can follow the pandemonium to the cherry blossoms without having a map of the exact location.

2) There`s not enough room for 31 million people under the cherry blossoms.

A mentality exists during this time which is very un-Japanese- no more

” You first”

“no you first”

“no really, you first”

“I insist- you first,”

For Hanami only, a rarely seen behavior is observed.

The Japanese prefer not to resort to such tactics and have employed a very effective alternative.

3) Get There Early or Send the New Guy

On April 1st of every year, the most recent class of college graduates all start their new jobs. This particular date was set many generations ago so the new recruits can go to the cherry blossom viewing site of the company`s choosing and hold a spot until everyone else gets off work.

This spot is guarded closely by the junior team. This father thought to use his toddler-aged daughter as a decoy for encroaching upon the site however, one of the top-notch recruits spotted the juvenile ploy immediately.

Others ensure that the spot is safe from intruders by placing heavy items of food in the middle and roping off the perimeter. If necessary, rocks are either thrown or used to beat invaders.

4) Window shopping

Arriving late without  a spot can be solved by scouting for an entertaining crowd in one`s best outfit. A snappy outfit and along with an “I`ll add entertainment value to your tarp” attitude may result in an invitation to join.

4) Cherry Blossom Season Coincides with Allergy Season

For dogs. We all know that washing hands can prevent the spread of germs and allergens.  Although many parks contain water fountains, it`s advisable to carry your dog to prevent the monotonous repetition of washing 4 paws.

5) Please don`t Dump the Kids` Hormone filled milk on the Ground

It`s causing the trees to develop pre-maturely.

"Throw me somethin` mister!"

6) There are Many Places to Enjoy Cherry Blossoms.

These truck drivers have a wonderful spread inside the cab complete with alcohol free sake and Costco sushi. When I passed they were enjoying a post lunch siesta.

Spouse is a multi tasker. Therefore, he goes to Yasukuni Shrine where he can view cherry blossoms and his favorite sumo wrestlers at the same time. I was thrilled to hear he and Andretti-san were picked out of the crowd by sumo scouts as potential recruits based on the way they threw rival onlookers to the ground when storming their way to the front for a closer look.

Baruto and Hakuho

Baruto, Harumafuji, Kisenosato

7) Bag your Garbage!

I`ve heard those big bags are sold at Costco.

Follow these rules and you`ll blend in like a native.

How can a tree that always looks as if it`s dying consistently surprise me when it miraculously sprouts blossoms out of nowhere?

Well- that`s the end. Of the Cherry Blossoms.

Every single town where at least two people reside hosts some sort of annual celebration for which it`s famous- and maybe even there`s a queen of said festival. What causes the folks in your town to shut down the post office for some hootin` and hollarin`?

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38 Responses to Cherry Blossom Viewing- A “How To” Guide for the Novice

  1. How wonderful! Is all the blossom white?


    • It`s actually just barely pink with a darker pink inside. These are the most amazing trees. They look completely dead, then overnight these blossoms cover the entire tree. The blossoms fall off within two weeks and are replaced with leaves. The actual tree looks like a gnarled, old, dead tree. Strange!


  2. How pretty, but we get cherry blossoms here in London and I’m happy to walk past tiny little trees bursting with massive pink flowers, maybe they’re not quite cherry blossoms, but they’ll do and I don’t have to queue to see one. What a strange custom! I suppose we westerners must have weird ones as well, at least weard to the Japanese but I can’t think of one, except for Xmas which I do not celebrate as I detest it…


    • Profesor says:

      We get loads of cherry blossoms here in London. Many different varieties all over the place. I think the ones in the pictures blossom much earlier here than in Japan. I think the ones you are referring to are the ones out at the moment. I actually prefer them. Only today I was in Regents Park and they looked fantastic.

      I thought it was weird to go Cherry Blossom Viewing before I went to live in Japan but now I’ve been turned and am quite jealous we don’t celebrate our blossoms with such enthusiasm. Having said that queueing up outside of a park for 40 minutes to see it was a bit odd but then Japan is far more urban than UK on the whole.


      • The ones I have seen are pink, and the flowers quite big, amusingly the trees I’ve seen are quite young, and their branches weighed heavily with the amount of flowers, which I loved, for they seemed to have exploded with flowers 😀


      • True. To me, and New Yorkers completely disagree, Tokyo is a lot like New York city minus the noise and with a lot more greenery. And of course, it`s cleaner. Well- actually it`s cleaner than every place except Singapore apparently!


    • To each his own right? The only place in the US with a preponderance of CB is in Washington DC and those were donated by a Japanese man. Those do draw in LOTS of visitors- marathons, etc.


      • Profesor says:

        Yes those blossoms are huge, aren’t they and the trees knarl quite quickly for a great effect.

        I haven’t been to NY but I know Tokyo is much bigger and you have to travel forever to get out of it.

        Once you start noticing the blossom here, you notice it everywhere.


      • I never knew there were Cherry Blossoms in London. Which is one of my favorite cities by the way.


  3. I dreamed about cherry blossoms list night. I was just thinking how I would like to plant one here. In Okayama (where I lived) everyone went down by the river for Hanami, or sometimes into the park. Lovely, noisy, and a little bit crazy but my favorite.


  4. This was a great guide. We were bummed that we missed them while we were there. We were about 2 weeks too early.


    • It is so hard to predict! The predictions for this year were a week to 10 days prior to when they actually bloomed. We had a trip planned to Kyoto and I was feeling so smug to see them there. Yea- not a bloom in sight.


  5. Great post, Emily.

    For us here in Kentucky, it’s definitely the Derby–and it’s coming up soon. However, I read last week that Lexington is the most e-literate city in America. This coupled with what it was designated last year in another study–the most sedintary city in the US–apparently, after Derby Day every one sits on their asses for the rest of year, eyes trained on Kindles and Nooks. Lexington–where only the horses run fast and all the people read fake books.



    • On the other hand, perhaps that bodes well for literacy in general. That can`t be bad. I`d let my son read Playboy if I thought he`d read it for the articles. Anything to get that kid to read…


  6. Daryl says:

    Genius excerpt right here: “..most bring at least one of their clang clangers, robot bing bongers, heli pod pounders, and any other assortment of the loudest instruments banned by their apartment complex.” I was walking through Ueno Park and the sounds you mentioned were matched only by the “pfft” sounds of cans of Asahi and Kirin being opened at record pace!


  7. Tori Nelson says:

    Awesome post! My little podunk town has all sorts of celebrations in which all businesses close down and everyone and their goats flock to the town square. Jesus Day, for instance, is a pretty fun one, because in the Bible Belt just celebrating Christmas is not nearly enough 🙂


  8. Dana says:

    I have to say, one of my favourite parts about living in Victoria is seeing all the cherry, apple, and plum blossoms. Our entire city transforms into a gorgeous pink confection! (It’s also lovely when a gale force wind comes along and rips all of the blossoms down onto the ground. It’s like pink snow.) Too bad we don’t celebrate the blossoms on a national level like the Japanese, though. Despite the crowds and noise, that sounds pretty awesome.


    • Dana- just like Mardi Gras- it`s lots of fun!

      Here there is a special word for the blowing of the blossoms. Of course I can`t remember it…..I tried to take a picture of the them- it is like pink snow! So magical!


  9. I’ve seen cherry blossoms here in Australia, but not that many, and I just marvelled at seeing so many blossoms overhead in one area — so gorgeous! I enjoyed this post too, as Hanami is something I’ve daydreamed about, and now I get insight at the reality.


  10. Michi says:

    Leave it to you to make a cherry blossom post hilarious! We have one place in Spain that blossoms like crazy, called La Valle del Jerte. I’ve yet to go, but now I’m doubly curious to to see if people behave similarly!


    • I would love to see pics of that! I`ve been amazed to hear of all the places that cherry blossoms grow since posting this. I keep reminding Spouse how nice it would be to move to Spain!


      • Michi says:

        It would be nice! Aside from the giant economic scare going on at the moment, it’s a pretty relaxed place to live in. Or perhaps the reason there’s an economic scare is because it’s so relaxed??
        Either way, I’d recommend it. You and your family would love it. And your kids would have NO problem with the food, I’m sure. They’d be as happy as clams.


  11. Jackie Cangro says:

    There is a big missed opportunity here. These college grads should be camping out for the best spot and then charging for tarp space. Clearly they aren’t MBAs.


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  13. EllieAnn says:

    That’s amazing. what a beautiful post. thanks so much for sharing this.


  14. roamingtheworld says:

    Hi Emily,
    Stumbled across your blog courtesy of Michi!
    I knew Japan was known for their cherry blossoms but I had no idea it’s practically a holiday when they bloom. Incredible.
    your joking about hormone infused milk is causing the blossoms to bloom early, right? (I ask, because In this day and age, it could be true…)


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