In late March and early April, the Cherry Blossom trees bloom across most of Japan. This is called Sakura and it’s a magical time to visit. Not only are cherry blossoms beautiful but they’re a symbol of new beginnings, of impermanence, the coming of spring and a time for celebration.
It would be difficult to pick my favourite cherry blossom spot. As a whole the city of Kyoto is heavily planted in cherry trees, many of its temples are stunningly framed in blossom and the Philosophers Path is lovely.
Shukkeien Garden in Hiroshima and Miyajima Island not far away shouldn’t be missed, Tokyo from the river, Ueno and Yoyogi parks, Kamakura, Osaka castle and Kanazawa would be high on the list. Then there are the smaller cities and towns that surprise at every turn, Nagahama, Himeji, Hikone, Okayama, Nara, Fukuoka and the list goes on.
A taste for sakura
We timed two of our visits to Japan to coincide with cherry blossom season but until I was there I didn’t realise quite how important it is to the Japanese people. Sakura is not only the blossoms themselves, the consumer market has turned it into a fragrance and a flavour.
Everything from perfume to McDonald’s burgers and traditional Japanese sweets called Wagashi, will all be reinvented in a delicate pink form to celebrate. While the Starbucks frappucino’s and McDonald’s burgers haven’t yet tempted me I’d have to say the wagashi, mochi cremes and even choux pastries filled with sakura custard are really delicious. Sakura as a flavour to my palate is somewhere between a strawberry and cherry flavour depending on the product.
A tea made of cherry blossom called Sakura Cha is popular in Japan for celebrations like weddings. We had it at the tea room in Hirano Shrine in Kyoto during the blossom festival there. The blossom petals are harvested once a year, dried and mixed with salt and ume plum vinegar to preserve them.
The tea initially tastes very salty and is followed by a floral aroma that’s something like a rose. Unfortunately, while I love most teas the heavy salt of this reminded me a little too much of the taste of the prep drink before medical procedures on the digestive tract, despite the lovely environment and festival spirit I couldn’t enjoy it.
Buddhism and Sakura
Japan is a Buddhist country and cherry blossoms represent the important Buddhist principle of impermanence. Despite how much they are loved and admired, shortly after they appear the rain and strong winds will blow the blossom from the trees, and for a short time it will blanket the ground in beautiful pale pink before they disappear.
The following spring they will reappear in a new and equally beautiful form. It reminds us we don’t have to cling to what we have or chase what the future may bring, just enjoy the present and trust that the future will unfold as it should.
Sakura is also a time of celebration, for people to get outdoors with the start of warmer spring weather. Hanami parties are popular where groups of friends, family and colleagues meet up in the more popular cherry blossom parks, spread out their waterproof blue tarps and set to drinking and picnicking under the trees.
Hanami seems to be popular for teenagers and upwards but in the bigger cities there seem to be few people that take younger children along. We did notice in smaller towns like Nagahama and Okayama the groups were more family-oriented with younger children collecting piles of petals and throwing petal snow over each other.
Additional articles to help with your Sakura planning
- How to tell the difference between ume (plum blossom) and sakura (cherry blossom)
- Top Sakura viewing spots in Kyoto
- Experience Miyako Odori – the Geisha of Gion in Kyoto perform their spring dance
- Our 2-week cherry blossom viewing itinerary takes in 10 cities from Tokyo to Hiroshima
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