Mount Fuji in springtime

The Japanese Hanami Tradition

Sakura flowers, or cherry blossoms, have a deep connection with the history and culture of Japan. The flowers are an allegory of many Japanese traditions such as the aesthetics of wabi-sabi, a view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The state of impermanence of the sakura which only lasts up to a week or two, also resonates with the samurai culture.

The beauty of cherry blossoms have played a role in numerous Japanese artworks in the ancient and the modern eras.  Sakura were initially used as offerings for the year’s harvest and marked the beginning of the rice-planting season.

Hanami viewing

The Japanese custom of hanami

The Japanese custom of hanami or “flower viewing”, is synonymous with public picnics, friends, and families huddling down under the trees with food and drink. The custom can be traced to the Nara period (710 – 794). At the time, people then would admire ume or wisteria trees, a plant species closely related to the apricot and plum. The ume blooms, unlike the sakura, lasted for almost two months, usually from January until the end of February.

Hanami was inspired by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty. What the sakura is for the Japanese, the ume is for the Chinese.  Th admiration for the breathtaking flowers leaves its imprint in history through the arts as seen in works of poetry, and literature and even philosophical beliefs.

Spring in Tokyo

Philosophy of cherry blossoms

Soon after the sakura flowers have fully developed, the wind starts to blow them away. As one sits under a sakura tree, it is not difficult to be reminded of how fleeting the magnificent beauty of the blooms last. This makes us see that the passing of time is what best describes the sakura philosophy. The beautiful, delicate, and fleeting petals are an allegory for life itself.

This realization and acceptance of the natural progression of the nature of things and how temporary and fleeting our lives are on this earth is the philosophy behind the cherry blossoms.