There’s a lovely spring ritual in Japan called hanami, which translates literally as ‘flower viewing’ but is used to refer to the act of picnicking under a cherry blossom tree (or ‘sakura’) in its full bloom. April is the perfect month for trying out such a delightful sport and we can recommend some of the most spectacular places in the world to find the pretty pink and white canopy required.
Multiple locations, Japan
The blossom is considered the national flower of Japan and the country’s huge population of cherry trees first come into bloom as early as January in Okinawa in the south of the country. Then gradually the blossoms further north follow suit, month by month. By March Tokyo starts to bloom. In April, it’s at its peak and the season continues its movement until May when Sapporo has its show.
The Japanese take blossom season seriously and a cherry blossom forecast is made each year by the Japan Weather Association. You can find this year’s on the National Tourism website along with a detailed list of exactly where and when to view the trees at their finest throughout the country. To name a few here, there is the beautiful cherry blossom tunnel at Japan Mint in Osaka and Ueno Park in Tokyo, where more than 1,000 trees surround the Shinobazu Pond and line the streets up to the National Museum. One of the best locations to view the blossom is said to be the Hirosaki Park, home to 2,600 blossom trees, some of them also forming tunnels in front of Hirosaki Castle. Festivals and festivities are held across the key blossom locations throughout the county, but if it’s Tokyo you’re headed to, make sure you go this month.
Washington DC, United States
In 1912 Washington DC was gifted 3,000 cherry trees by Tokyo’s Mayor Ozaki, which today line the tidal basin and the Washington Mall and surround the Jefferson Memorial. The city has celebrated the blossom every year since then at the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Taking place over six weeks between March and April, the festival includes a parade, live music and a kite display. All of which was suspended during the Second World War when the US was at war with Japan when the trees during this period were temporarily referred to as ‘Oriental’ flowering trees. The power of politics.
Tune into Blossom Cam to see the trees as they change daily.
Japan, it turns out, is very generous with its blossom gifts and gave the city of Vancouver a whopping 37,000 cherry trees. These tend to reach their peak in mid April and, since 2006, the city has celebrated with a Cherry Blossom Festival starting at the end of March. Art performances, film screenings and a haiku* competition make up the entertainment and at night the trees are atmospherically hung with paper lanterns.
*a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.
Kungsträdgården or ‘King’s Park’ is one of Stockholm’s most popular parks thanks to a central location and a host of outdoor cafes. It’s also home to the city’s biggest collection of pink blossom trees – 63 lining two boulevards and expected to peak between mid-to-late April. On April 16th, Stockholm will celebrate its annual Cherry Blossom Day with a festival organised in partnership with the Japanese government. It’s designed to signal the official opening of spring.
Heerstrasse in Bonn’s Nordstadt neighbourhood is also known as ‘Cherry Blossom Avenue’ because every April the street is engulfed by a striking pink canopy of blossoms. The trees were planted in the 1980’s and have become the focus of many photographs since. Happily, the street is a hop, skip and a jump from Beethoven’s House so tourists heading there anyway, don’t forget to pack your picnic.
Brooklyn – New York, United States
2016 marks the 35th anniversary of Sakura Matsuri, Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual cherry blossom festival. Taking place over the course of a weekend, the festival includes over 60 events and performances that celebrate traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.
There are at least 26 species and cultivars of the flowering cherry in the garden’s collection so if you can’t make the festival, but can make it to the park in spring enjoy a gorgeous quiet stroll through the blooms instead. Find out more here.
Featured introduction image courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.