Hanami, or 花見 literally means "Flower Viewing" (Hana, 花 means flowers and Mi, 見 means look) and it is a traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. The "flowers", although initially meant any flowers blooming in spring, has come to almost always mean sakura (cherry blossoms) nowadays .
The practice of hanami is supposedly ancient and has been referred to in history books as well as Japanese literature.
Nowadays, hanami means a time to party and many will flock to the parks during the sakura season to eat, drink and be merry under the sakura trees.
Here are a few interesting things about hanami:
1. Hanami is actually a very apt name for cherry blossoms viewing, even if the original meaning of hanami does not just refer to sakuras but flowers in general. This is because when the sakura blooms, almost every single flower is bloom towards the ground, ie looking downwards.
So this means that for the people sitting under the trees during hanami, all they have to do is look up and see hundreds or even thousands of sakura flowers blooming above them in their direction. It is in the truest sense of the word 花見.
2. Hanami at night is called yozakura, which means "Night Sakura". Since it is still spring time when the sakura blossoms, it can get quite cold at night.. but the cool air and the bright lanterns in the park (usually hung especially just for yozakura) complements the sake and food for hanami and makes yozakura a lot more fun.
3. A very popular Japanese anime, which has since been since adapted into Japanese and Taiwanese drama series, called Hana Yori Dango (花より男子 - or Boys over Flowers) is actually a pun on the saying Hana Yori Dango 花より団子 (Rice dumplings over Flowers). Hana Yori Dango 花より団子 is a Japanese saying that hints at the real priorities of the hanami - food.. (and drinks, of course).
And it is, as most sayings are, very true.. But the party atmospheres in parks during sakura season is so festive-like that, coupled with the cool weather and beautiful flowers, make visiting the parks a very pleasant experience.. Even if they are packed full with people.
Ueno Park in Tokyo is a very good place to see sakura and people enjoying hanami and yozakura.. Here are some pictures I took when I was there..
The place is really crowded..
Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves..
There are little stalls like this and snack stalls all around..
An oden stall by the lake.. it was still cool enough
to have oden outdoors..
The festive mood is catchy..
Even the old folks enjoy hanami.. see their tables
and how well prepared they are?
I was very impressed with how organised everything was - even the
garbage boxes have sakura printed all over..
Here are some pictures of the different varieties of sakuras we saw in bloom..
The white sakuras look the purest... so lovely..
But then the pink ones are really sweet..
The pale, almost whitish pink ones are my favourite..
This is an interesting tree we saw at Shinjuku Park
- the tree has sakuras of 2 different colours