Cherry Blossom Day: Why It’s Important to Japan

A branch with cherry blossoms.

Japan's Cherry Blossom Day is celebrated on March 27, a momentous day. (Image: Montypeter via Dreamstime)

Japan’s Cherry Blossom Day is celebrated on March 27, a momentous day. Although not an extremely traditional celebration, it still holds much importance in appreciating the country’s beauty.

Unlike other celebrations, Cherry Blossom Day was established by Japan’s Cherry Blossom Association in 1992. The day is known as “sakura ho hi” and was created to help gain interest in one of Japan’s most beautiful offerings.

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The celebration was created to help show the importance of the cherry (sakura) blossom to Japanese culture, and thus it is a day devoted to cherry blossoms.

Why is Cherry Blossom Day so important in Japan?

The reason why Cherry Blossom Day is so important is that cherry blossoms themselves are rare. They take a long time to bloom before falling to the ground. Because of their short lifespan, it’s important to appreciate them before they disappear. Most cherry tree species bloom for only a week. However, cherry trees can bloom at different times depending on the species.

Hanami (flower viewing) is the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying flowers' transient beauty; blossoms (hana), in this case, almost always refer to those of the sakura or, less frequently, plum trees.
Hanami (flower viewing) is the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying flowers’ transient beauty; blossoms (hana), in this case, almost always refer to those of the sakura or, less frequently, plum trees. (Image: Cherry via Dreamstime)

The cherry tree has over 400 species

Not all blooms are the same. All cherry trees are fruit trees and part of the genus Prunus. There are roughly 430 different species contained within this genus.

While they might all look the same initially, some blooms are pinker than others, while some give off a reddish glow. Some shades of pink are almost white, while others are darker and closer to red. Depending on where you are, different species of cherry blossoms are planted and bloom during hanami. If you want to make the most of this season, go to a place with highly concentrated flowers.

The most common species of cherry blossom in Japan is the “Somei-Yoshino” or Yoshino cherry, a hybrid between two other species. It is known for its almost entirely white petals tinged with the faintest pinks.

The Hanami Festival

Most often referring to cherry blossoms, the Hanami Festival celebrates the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying flowers. Starting toward the end of March and lasting until the beginning of May, cherry blossoms — sakura and plum trees — are in blossom all around the country.

Hanami has been embedded in Japanese tradition for centuries, dating back to the Nara Period (710-794). This time-honored tradition symbolizes the welcoming of spring and the appreciation and admiration of natural beauty.

In the past centuries, there was a deep understanding and belief that deities were enshrined in the sakura trees, similar to the god of the mountain and rice fields. Traditionally, farmers would pray to cherry blossoms to increase their harvest. However, in time, the concept evolved and changed, and the sakura trees’ serene beauty became the focal point.

Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom at Arashiyama by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1834.
‘Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom at Arashiyama’ by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1834. (Image: via Public Domain)

Many artists and poets celebrated the pink cherry blossoms in various artworks. This admiration for nature and beauty became the more important part of the sakura blossom, and the same concept is honored today.

Often, outdoor parties will occur underneath the vibrantly pink cherry blossom trees, where people gather to enjoy food, drinks, and celebrations. Celebrations can occur during the day or in the evening after the sun sets. These evening parties are uniquely beautiful and are referred to as Yozakura, translating to “night sakura.”

The evening celebrations often include paper lanterns hung among the trees, bringing a new perspective and beauty to the cherry blossoms.

Another traditional way to celebrate Hanami is by drinking sake and traditional tea. Seasonal foods, in particular sweet foods, are also enjoyed with these beverages. In addition, people will often decorate using motifs resembling spring and floral trees.

This is the ideal time to celebrate the Hanami Festival, which coincides with the blooming forecast. Therefore, the Hanami Festival is intrinsically connected to the forecast, as the blossom forecast is announced each year, and the hanami is then planned accordingly.

Some places to enjoy hanami in Tokyo include Ueno Park, Yoyogi Park, Meguro River, and Chidori-ga-fuchi (Kudanshita). In Osaka, Sakuranomiya is a popular choice. In Kyoto, Arashiyama, Kinkaku-ji, and Gion are great places to enjoy Hanami.

If you want to attend Cherry Blossom Day or the Hanami Festival, it’s best to go with a tour guide who knows the place and helps you take the best shots. (Image: Sean Pavone via Dreamstime)

Tips to keep in mind if visiting

If you plan to enjoy a picnic, always double-check that the park or outdoor space allows food and drink. Not all sites permit food consumption, so it is best to check beforehand if you plan to eat outside.

When picnicking, be mindful of others surrounding your space, and do not misbehave or take more space than is necessary. Do not litter or leave garbage or food scraps in the park; always clean up afterward.
It is not appropriate to be outwardly intoxicated or loud. Always drink responsibly.

Respect the trees, and do not damage the branches or the cherry blossoms. The leaves will fall on their own; it is essential not to touch or alter them in any way.

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