Sakura season, usually arriving in March or April across Japan’s different regions, is probably the most beautiful time of year to visit Japan and is certainly the most popular amongst tourists. With the cherry-pink colour perfectly offsetting the clear pastel-blue Japanese skies, Sakura (cherry-blossom) trees are a stunning sight to behold. Sakura viewing parties are a staple event held at this time of year and represent the aesthetic Japan is known to strive for. Sakura iconically characterises spring in Japan, and is even used as an ice cream flavour or sprinkled on lattes; it is true to say that a pink obsession takes over the country in this period, and not just in Japan. Big global names in sales have also picked up on the craze, with Starbucks releasing a Sakura frappuccino last spring.
Hanami: The Ancient Tradition of Flower Viewing
Hanami is the name given to the ongoing and ancient tradition of flower viewing, with the term deriving from the Japanese word for flower, hana.
Originally, this ceremony centred on plum blossoms but by the Heian era (794 – 1185) it transitioned to exclusively focus on Sakura. This blossom only blooms for a very short time (usually a week) betweenMarch and May, most commonly in very early April in Kyoto, and is seen to metaphorically represent the fleeting nature of life. Historically, the period in which the cherry-blossom bloomed was indicative of divining that year’s harvest and signalled the commencing of the rice-planting season. When the Sakura trees come to fruition and the blossoms start to fall, swirling around in the wind, this is seen as the ultimate time to host viewing parties as this sight is considered particularly beautiful to behold. Sakura blossoms and their movement are widely seen to incorporate the Japanese ideology of wabi-sabi (the aesthetic of imperfection and transience).
Sakura and Ancient Kyoto
Japan has the longest lasting monarchy of any nation and has a fascinating history. The ancient and imperial eras in Japan are shrouded in mystery and allure and are highly interesting, particularly to foreigners, as this history is so unique anddistinctive. From the ancient myths and stories of samurai and the beautiful art depicting the seemingly transient lives of ancient imperial courts, it is clear to see why many have an interest in studying ancient Japan and why it still holds a special place in contemporary Japanese society.
Hanami was an essential part of court life, with Emperor Saga of the Heian period holding parties with feasting and sake consumption beneath the flowering blossoms in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. Kyoto was in fact originally the imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years, before this moved to Edo (now Tokyo) in the nineteenth century. From these gatherings, a great deal of poetry was written praising the cherry-blossom, again often metaphorically, linking Sakura to the blooming of life. Although starting as exclusive to the Imperial Court and other elite, hanami was soon adopted by samurai society and the common people by the Edo period (1603-1868).
Sakura and Modern Kyoto
Kyoto is still the most popular place to host hanami. Every year during Sakura season, the ancient city is flooded with tourists hoping to get the best view of the famed phenomenon, and experience the rich culture Kyoto has to offer. It is a time of great celebration with lively parties and entertainment including dancing specific to hanami, such as Miyako Odori (literally translating to ‘capital city dances’ but most commonly known in English as cherry blossom dancing). At these gatherings, there is no shortage of food and drink; sake is particularly popular and is often be consumed warm, and the parks are flooded with people having picnics, enjoying the season with friends. Geisha wear traditional kimono with Sakura design and dance the Miyako Odori to celebrate the season.
Sakura in Design at Atelier Japan
Holding a special association with Japan, Sakura as a depiction is perhaps the most popular and aesthetically pleasing design used in art and other mediums, and is highly admired worldwide. Drawn or painted with great skill, Sakura is a beautiful picture to have in your home. At Atelier Japan, many of our ornaments and pottery are exquisitely designed with unique and stunningly beautiful illustrations of Sakura, such as our Shinheiji vase showing a kimono clad woman under a Sakura tree.