Hanami Party

From the end of March to early May, sakura (さくら cherry blossom) bloom all over Japan, and I was lucky enough to arrive in Tokyo at just the right time to see them at their height. Aided by a national blossom forecast (桜前線), locals take part in a centuries old traditional custom called Hanami (花見) which literally means “flower viewing”.

Sakura

A hanami party basically involves gathering with friends, family, or coworkers under the sakura trees and consuming copious amounts of alcohol and snacks while playing games or listening to music.

Cherry Blossom Trees in Full Bloom

In order to get the best spot people will send someone out many hours or even days before to reserve a space by spreading out a tarpaulin on the ground and sit on it until the others arrive later. This usually falls to the most junior member of the party!

Hanami in Yoyogi Park

Unlike what you might expect from somewhere like the UK, the drinking is jovial rather than raucous (most of the time) and everything is very well organised.

Hanami Couple

It’s also common to have celebrations under the sakura at night, known as yozakura (夜桜). In some places lanterns are temporarily hung to enjoy the scenery.

Hanami Party in Yoyogi Park

My first taste of hanami was in Yoyogi Park (代々木公園), adjacent to Meiji Shrine in Harajuku.

Sitting Under The Cherry Blossoms

To say it was packed would be an understatement!

Hanami Stroll

Hanami Picnics

Hanami Watching

My next stop was Chidorigafuchi (千鳥ケ淵) in Chiyoda where hundreds of cherry trees line the moat of the Imperial Palace.

Chidorigafuchi Sakura

Despite the overcast weather, the view of the overhanging trees reflecting in the water was really spectacular.

Chidorigafuchi Hanami

Chindorigafuchi Moat

Underneath the Hanami Trees

The blossom also coincides with graduation time for Japanese students and there were many girls dressed in traditional kimonos, adding to the unique atmosphere.

Traffic Conductor

Since there were so many people the Japanese traffic police were on high-alert to control the crowds. They all carried small light-sabres!

Yasukuni Hanami Watching

I briefly popped into Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社) which is nearby and is dedicated to those who died on behalf of the Empire of Japan.

Yasukuni Shrine

The shrine has been the center of controversy over its enshrinement of multiple war criminals from World War II which has caused much tension, particularly with China, when prominent Japanese politicians have visited it.

Yasukuni Shrine

Nevertheless, amongst the sakura it’s a pretty spot to visit.

"Keep Walking!"

More police to keep people moving in an orderly fashion.

Hanami Police

Luckily he didn’t mind having his photo taken!

Hanami Paparazzi

The sakura paparazzi in action.

Sakura Boating

There were long queues of people waiting to hire rowing boats.

Row row row your boat

More to come in Part 2.