Hanami: watching the cherry blossom in Japan

The annual cherry blossom in Japan is a magical sight and despite some mixed and rather odd weather, looks set to be here by the end of March.

Japanorama Cherry Blossom Photo Walks 2009

We are organising a hanami photo walk in April this year. We planned to do some in March as well but due to our photographer having an enormous volume of work, the March walks have been cancelled.

Oh, by the way, the Japan Meteorological Society has now released their cherry blossom forecast for this year. Check their website for more details.

Revised date for Tokyo Hanami – Cherry Blossom – walk in 2009:

Sunday 5th April:
Late afternoon and evening walk in Naka-meguro

The walk or excursion will last at least three hours. That gives us plenty of time in our location and plenty of time for us to help you with your photography. The maximum number of people or each walk will not exceed 10, as that way we can spend enough time with you to chat about the photography aspects, give you some tips, help you with shooting etc.

The fee for each walk is 2000Yen per person, excluding any garden entrance fees, see above where applicable.

For enquiries or to book a place, please get in touch via our contact form. Thanks.

Hanami 2008
Photos by Alfie Goodrich

Hanami: A background…..

With the blossom comes the promise of warmer weather and people begin to enjoy coming back out, gathering in parks and having fun together. Here are some photos and some suggestions of where to go for the best hanami, or blossom viewings.

The History: The practice of hanami is many centuries old. The custom is said to have started during the Nara Period (710-784) when the Chinese Tang Dynasty influenced Japan in many ways; one of which was the custom of enjoying flowers. Though it was ume blossoms that people admired in the beginning, by the Heian Period, sakura came to attract more attention. From then on, in tanka and haiku, “flowers” meant “sakura.”

Hanami was first used as a term analogous to cherry blossom viewing in the Heian era novel Tale of Genji. Whilst a wisteria viewing party was also described, from this point on the terms “hanami” and “flower party” were only used to describe cherry blossom viewing.

Sakura originally was used to divine that year’s harvest as well as an announcer of the rice-planting season. People believed in gods’ existence inside the trees and made offerings at the root of sakura trees. Afterwards, they partook of the offering with sake.

Hanami Today: The Japanese people continue the tradition of hanami, gathering in great numbers wherever the flowering trees are found. Thousands of people fill the parks to hold feasts under the flowering trees, and sometimes these parties go on until late at night. In more than half of Japan, the cherry blossoming period coincides with the beginning of the scholastic and fiscal years, and so welcoming parties are often opened with hanami.

The Japanese people continue the tradition of hanami by taking part in the processional walks through the parks. This is a form of retreat for contemplating and renewing their spirits.

Best spots in Tokyo for Hanami: There are some tremendous cherry and blossom trees all across Tokyo, from the grandest public parks to small neighbourhood spaces. Here are a few of the best places to see the gradest profusions…. see our recommendations below the gallery.

Ueno Park [closest JR station: Ueno. Use the Koenji exit for easy access to the park] One of Japan’s most crowded, noisy and popular cherry blossom spots, Ueno Park features more than 1000 trees along the street leading towards the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond. There is no entrance fee. Food stands are dotted all over the park.

Shinjuku Gyoen [5 minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station] Shinjuku Gyoen is a big park with more than one thousand cherry trees of over a dozen varieties in Western and Japanese style gardens. Entrance fee is 200 Yen. The park is open between 9:00 and 16:30.

Inokashira Park [South of Kichijoji Station, Inokashira Line] There are a few hundred trees in this public city park. There is no admission fee. Inokashira also has a largish lake, which a lot of the trees border.

Aoyama Cemetery [5 minute walk from the Subway stations at Nogizaka and Gaienmae. 10 mins from Aoyama i-chome station]. The straight road leading through the cemetery is lined and covered by hundreds of cherry trees. There is no admission fee and a few food stands are available. The northern border of the intersecting road also has a large area of graves dedicated to some of the pioneer foreigners of Japan. Generally a very interesting spot for photographers but, be advised, it is considered by the Japanese to be bad luck to photograph in cemeteries. So you may get a few funny or disapproving looks.

The Meguro River [nearest station, Naka Meguro on the Tokyo Subway]. The river is lined by impressive trees on both banks which make for a superb display but which do make this area a popular and crowded spot during hanami.

Sumida Park [nearest station JR Asakusa. River boats available from Hama Rikyu and Hinode Pier; nearest station for these two is Hammamatsucho]. Asakusa is a popular and crowded tourist spot so beware. It is also, especially by the river, a popular spot for Tokyo’s growing homeless population who are though generally harmless, keep themselves to themselves and will surprise the average tourist with the cleanliness and ingenuity of their improvised homes along the riverbanks. Both banks of the Sumida River [Sumidagawa] are lined by impressive stands of trees.

Other hanami resources:

About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

We also welcome submissions of photos and articles for this site, so please get in touch via our contact page. Thanks.

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