One of the reasons I chose Japan as my destination was because my travel dates coincided with the start of the cherry blossom season.
The blossom only flowers for a couple of weeks, although travellers who arrive too early or too late for Tokyo’s display can travel North or South to see it in other locations in Japan. In total you have from February to May.
In Tokyo, the blossom normally appears in early April; by February the internet is able to predict more precise dates. This year was a little early, which worked perfectly for me.
Viewing sakura is immensely popular in Japan. You need to be prepared for hordes and hordes of people to be joining you for your viewing (actually you need to be prepared for hordes of people wherever you go in Tokyo).
The sakura and Japanese culture
There are plenty of countries to see spring blossom, of course, but it was the cultural significance of seeing it in Japan that appealed to me.
In Japan, sakura represents the fragility of life (like the cherry blossom life is beautiful but over very quickly).
Hanami, or blossom viewing
One popular activity is to picnic in the park under the blossoms. Don’t expect to turn up at lunchtime and grab a space; the serious blossom-watchers will have unrolled their tarpaulin sheets and installed someone to reserve the spot from early in the morning.
The Japanese have a word for viewing the blossom: Hanami. If you do your blossom viewing at night there is a word for that too: yozakura.
If you find yourself viewing plum blossom instead (an easy mistake to make) there is a word for that too: umemi. Plum blossom comes in pink, white and also purple. Cherry blossom doesn’t come in purple so if the flowers you are looking at are purple then it is plum – not cherry – blossom.
I got together with a group of avid sakura enthusiasts and we made up a little bento box to take to the local park. In typical Japanese fashion, two people were sent to the park at 8AM to reserve a picnic spot.