The Art of the Hanami Party

  • Spring is upon us once again in Japan. I tasted warm weather with this week’s rotation of warm days after a frigid weekend, something the Japanese refer to as “San-Kan-Shi-On”, literally meaning “three cold four warm” (三寒四温). The cherry blossoms are of fabled beauty here in Japan, and famous the world over, but no words can describe the utter euphoria of a hanami party.

    A hanami party is a picnic outdoors dedicated to viewing the delicate flowers. And they are truly a delicate sight as the petals constantly flutter down to the ground, occasionally stirred by the breeze. There is even a name for this phenomenon, “hana-fubuki”, a “flower blizzard” (花吹雪).

    The party doesn’t necessarily require a lot of planning, but, like any picnic, the more prepared you are, the better. Location is easy enough, as you can be sure to find a grove of these revered trees in just about any park, although every city and town tends to have a gathering place famed for a particularly beautiful grove of cherry trees.

    Don’t forget your mat or blanket, of course. Grab some beers or an easy cocktail. Any convenience store is readily stocked with all kinds of liquor, but advanced picnickers will choose a simple cocktail to mix into cups. Spend as much time on food as you want, but of course, as with the beverages, simpler is better. Last year, my friends and I grabbed some chips and crackers and cheese from the convenience store near Tsurumai Park, in Nagoya, and one of us showed up with some tebasaki (chicken wings, a Nagoya favorite) and kushi-katsu (kebabs) takeout she picked up on her way to the park.

    You’re likely to find a lot of others celebrating in good weather. In more popular parks, it may take a minute to find a spot to lay your mat, but don’t be shy. The hanami party is just as much about being social. You’ll find everyone chatting, laughing, singing, eating and drinking as well. Last year, the blue and green tarps were side-by-side under the pink lanterns hung beneath the blossoms in Nagoya. We even had some music playing on a portable speaker, which no one minded. Spirit were high.