Hanami, Umemi and Yozakura

  • Every spring, many residents or visitors of Japan impatiently look forward to the blossoming of the Sakura. Between the end of March and early May, Japan becomes a magnificently beautiful light pink filled island that can soothe the eyes of the witness. However, we ask ourselves, are there any specific traditions practiced during this period of exquisiteness? If so, how did they evolve throughout the years?

    By first being used in the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, Hanami (花見) has been referred to as the viewing of Cherry blossom and is translated to flower viewing, hana meaning flower and mi to look. The practice of Hanami started around 710 during the Nara period when it was referred to as Umemi due to the Ume (plum) blossoms being the main attraction. The Sakura then became the main captivation in the Heian period used for announcing the rice planting season and the prediction of the year’s harvest while being praised in a celebratory environment. This practice was then innovated by Emperor Saga in the Imperial court in Kyoto where parties under the Sakura trees were filled with food, Sake and poem reading in appreciation of the flowers. While this habit originated by exclusively being practiced by the elites of the imperial court, it spread to the Samurai community and was eventually practiced by most people in the community during the Edo Period. Throughout the years, the Hanami tradition prevailed to portray significance and appreciation of the Sakura season considering it is a relatively short period.

    When the weather Bureau announces the exact Sakura blossoming forecast, Sakura lovers around Japan prepare themselves for some leisure and relaxation given the season falls during ending of the vacations and the beginning of the academic year, perfect way to end it and to start it. Friends, families and lovers all gather under the trees with tasty Bentos and delicious Sake. Most youngsters are known to practice the Hanami since it is known to be a little active and noisy. Older People on the other hand practice the Umemi since it is calmer and less crowded. Others however may want a night under both the stars and Sakura tress and practice what is known as the Yozakura (夜桜) which translates to night Sakura. People who practice the Yozaukra tend to pick their precious spot way before nightfall for it not to be missed and stay there until midnight and after.

    If you are currently in Japan, now is the time to gather your friends and practice one of these customs to tranquilize your emotions and enjoy some eye candy while the Sakura trees are still visible.