Japan's blooming pastime

Picnickers having their lunch break at Mount Yoshino. Hanami traditionally involves a picnic party under the blooming trees.

To the world, cherry blossoms are an iconic symbol of Japan. From the tail end of March to early May, sakura (cherry blossom) trees - from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south - bloom. The first two weeks of April are often considered the best time for viewing the flowers.

Practised for centuries, the annual hanami - or flower viewing - is still one of the most celebrated pastimes. People picnic in parks, drink beer and enjoy the beauty of the flowers.

An important aspect of hanami is predicting exactly when the cherry blossoms will appear. There are even dedicated websites to help visitors and locals time their visits to popular cherry blossom spots, such as the Marayama-Koen park in Kyoto.

The traditional onsen (or hot springs) town of Kinosaki is located in northern Hyogo prefecture along the coast of the Sea of Japan. This famous town, built along a willow-lined river, is festooned with the Somei Yoshino cherry tree in April. Cultivated during the Edo period in Tokyo, the Somei Yoshino is the most popular cherry blossom in Japan.

The Kinpusenji pagoda is the leading temple in Yoshino. In 2004, Yoshino, together with Mount Koya and Kumano, was designated a cultural Unesco World Heritage Site named the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.

Day-trippers to Japan's first permanent capital, Nara, having a break at a restaurant surrounded by sakura trees. Nara is home to many of Japan's important scenic and historical sites.

Fallen petals of sakura blossoms filling the willow-lined river of the town of Kinosaki. Heavy rain or strong windy conditions can bring the season for sakura viewing to a premature close.

Two women taking selfies in front of a sakura tree in the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto. Built in 947, the shrine became the object of imperial patronage during the early Heian period and is now considered a prime spot for sakura spotting.

Picnickers having their lunch break at Mount Yoshino. Hanami traditionally involves a picnic party under the blooming trees. Such traditions have been enjoyed in Japan for many centuries and today, are held in public and private gardens and parks.

A girl takes a breather to soak in the sight of hundreds of cherry trees on the slopes of Kami Senbon at Mount Yoshino, in Nara. There are more than 30,000 cherry trees planted along the slopes of the mountain.

Popular places for hanami parties, such as the Marayama-Koen park in Kyoto, are illuminated at night. It is the oldest park in Kyoto and is packed with people and rows of beverage and food stalls to cater for the late night drinking and festivity.

A makeshift hanami restaurant readies for the working crowd in the evening. The Japanese let their hair down and have a good time during hanami. Plenty of alcohol and revelry are expected under the pink and white canopy.

Tourists taking photographs of the falling petals of a Shidarezakura tree (also known as the weeping cherry tree) in Arashimaya, Kyoto. Weeping cherry trees have drooping branches and are among the most common and beloved cherry trees in Japan. They usually bloom in early April.


This article was published on May 3 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.