This article is adapted from Anna Jassem and Aleksander Szojer’s upcoming book, In the Rhythm of the Seasons: Japanese Customs and Home
Starting in early spring, all major Japanese media provide daily updates on the sakura (cherry blossom) front, which moves up from the subtropical Okinawa to northernmost Hokkaido. Well before the first buds appear on trees, the color pink pops up all over the supermarket shelves, with half of the products being sold in sakura packaging or even in sakura flavor (which, counterintuitively, is actually the flavor of the cherry petals rather than the fruits).
Once the Japan Meteorological Agency officially announces the arrival of spring in a given area, the annual craze of hanami (literally “flower viewing”) begins. Young mothers with their little ones, seniors with their watercolors, amateur photographers with suitcases full of professional equipment and crowds of office workers flock to parks for picnics and parties under the blossoming trees.
“Earlier, companies would send their most junior members to hold the spot since early morning or even the night before,” recalls Miyuki Suyari from the Simply Oishii Cooking School in Tokyo. “Nowadays, it will usually suffice to leave a note on the ground with the date and time of a hanami gathering for other groups to respect it.” Upon arrival, everyone takes off their shoes and cuddles up on one of the big blue tarps that are normally used to protect construction sites. “The plastic sheets are used in place of portable tatami mats as they are light, sturdy and cheap,” explains Miyuki.