There’s a lot of customs in Japan, some of which are for praising the gods, welcoming the spirits of the dead, and this one, in particular, is for welcoming spring.
Hanami, also known as “cherry blossom festival,” is a long-standing Japanese tradition of welcoming the spring season. The custom is said to be centuries old (Sawano, 2006) and first started years ago during the Nara period (710-794). Hanami varied by location and time in Japan, but most of the time, it started in late March to May and lasted for a few days and some for few weeks (“Cherry Blossom Viewing: Japan Mint,” 2007).
One of the most notable things in Hanami is its history. As formerly mentioned, Hanami had started centuries ago during the Nara period. Japan had started to look at old Chinese culture and found out that one of the poems they read was of celebrating the beauty of cherry blossom trees. Knowing that, they enacted the same tradition themselves (Star, 2017). Around this time, people used to drink sake—Japanese alcohol—below cherry blossom trees to celebrate it.
The Heian period (794-1185) saw the growing popularity of Hanami that the term became synonymous with both sakura, the cherry blossom trees, and the annual tradition of seeing it. A poem was made correlating samurai and sakura (Buchahan, 1965), where both of them are fragile and beautiful at the same time. That’s why samurai has some link to sakura to this very day (Star, 2017). During the Heian period, only the elite samurai—a warrior in Japan—could have a glance at Hanami.
In the premodern era, some changes happened to Hanami. Hanami became even more popular during the Edo period (1600-1868), specifically in Tokyo, where Tokugawa Shogunate–feudal Japanese military government resided (Star, 2017). It used to be only available for The Elite Samurai, but the Shogunate changed it: they began planting sakura at public places too, inviting commoners such merchants and farmers to the scene. Other places outside of Tokyo copied the gesture, and so the Hanami custom vastly expanded its scope across Japan.
In modern-day, everything shifted. After the termination of The Samurai, Hanami becomes more of a tourist site. The link between samurai and sakura started to fade, and Hanami has a more synonymous relation to a new beginning than samurai (Star, 2017). Even though Hanami used to be celebrated by drinking sake, now you can drink tea or even soda while seeing the beautiful cherry blossom trees (Life, 2009). Newspapers everywhere tell people the best places to watch Hanami and the best time to do it. Hanami has become a fundamental attraction to visit in Japan.
Hanami, with the interesting history behind it, has come this far. It has had its own bumpy road ever since it was established, and it is a miracle that such culture preserves for this long. The history of it is very unique, one that has changed a lot from its original purpose. Seeing its popularity, Japan will most likely embrace the culture even more.
Buchahan, D. (1965). Japanese Proverbs and Sayings. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.id/books?id=wGb4zNqYj10C&pg=PA175&dq=%22hana+yori+dango%22&redir_esc=y#v=snippet&q=sakura&f=false
Cherry Blossom Viewing: Japan Mint. (2007). Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20070523004501/http://www.mint.go.jp/eng/sakura/viewing.html
Life, S. (2009). Hanami: The Cherry Blossom Festival Welcomes Spring – Samovar Tea. Retrieved from https://www.samovartea.com/hanami-the-cherry-blossom-festival-welcomes-spring/
Sawano, M. (2006). Mizue Sawano: The Art of the Cherry Tree. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.id/books?id=nHf8lxLOYsUC&pg=PA12&dq=Hanami+nara&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Hanami%20nara&f=false
Star, M. (2017). The history of Hanami – Community blog. Retrieved from https://blog.gengo.com/the-history-of-hanami/