How to ‘hanami’ – the right way
By Chae Yeon Christy Kim
If you are ever in Japan during the blossoming of spring, you have definitely chosen the most opportune moment to see the country at its best. From the end of March to the beginning of May, cherry blossoms or ‘sakura’ are a common sight along the streets of Japan. (The sakura cherry blossoms are only in full blossom for about a week and vary every year, so it is important to find out a schedule for that year’s cherry blossom season, which can be easily found on the Internet.) However, your Japanese spring sojourn will only be considered complete when you go for ‘hanami’ (花見; literally “flower viewing”) in Japan.
‘Hanami’ is a term used to describe the traditional custom of viewing cherry blossoms during the spring. The regular ‘hanami’ consists of bentos (弁当; the Japanese lunch box), picnic mats, and sometimes tents, where the whole family goes out to the park during the day to spend time amidst the beautiful sakura trees. However, if you are looking for a way to spend a more youthful time with your friends under the sakura, it is best to go on ‘yozakura’ (夜桜; literally “night sakura”), which is the viewing of flowers during the night.
A one time trip to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden on a sunny day with the sakura blossoms at its height will definitely satisfy a tourist’s desire for a pleasant view of the beautiful flower. However, a small glimpse at the ‘yozakura’ surrounding the Meguro River amidst beautifully lit paper lanterns during the night will be a whole new sight to see. Not only do the flowers give off a different mood amongst the pink-red lights, but the entire surrounding atmosphere is also completely different from that of the conventionally family-centric day ‘hanami.’
On the two sides of the vaguely lit Meguro River are endless rows of food stands selling a myriad of food and beverages. The dim lighting from the paper lanterns and the countless stands selling champagne and cocktails transform the riverside into a rather sophisticated but cozy bar to which people go for a light drink after work. In fact, besides tourists, most of the people who visited the Meguro River for ‘yozakura’ were young Japanese workers looking to spend time with friends or lovers after work.
Take a light walk down the side of the river with an impressive sakura view and a champagne glass in your hand. The incorporation of youthfulness with the long historical tradition of ‘hanami’ will give you a glimpse into the true beauty of Japanese culture.