Another one of my list-toppers, which should have a place on your travel checklist as well, is a good sakura spot: a beautiful place in Japan that showcases sakura when they appear in early spring. Sakura can be seen in many countries around the world, but in Japan they have an altogether different meaning for the nation’s people. Take time out in January to view the gorgeous blossoms if you visit the southern part of Japan, and in late March or early April if you’re near in the north near Tokyo. Bring a picnic blanket and some friends to check them out, or swing by a sakura spot alone after classes. Whatever the situation, be sure to give yourself some time to appreciate their brief presence — it’ll make for a relaxing break from the stress of your daily life, and some breathtaking photos!
What are sakura?
桜 (さくら): Sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossoms — the small beautiful light pink or white flowers that bloom on cherry trees for just a few weeks after winter, when the weather becomes warmer. Sakura refers to the Japanese cherry tree, which is pretty much just an ornamental tree, and doesn’t bear fruits.
What do sakura mean for the Japanese?
Sakura are a significant part of Japanese culture, and have had an appearance in Japanese art and literature for centuries. They signify the transience of life — the short time humans have on this Earth to live and to love — because they bloom briefly and fall to the ground in a number of days. In this way, sakura are also associated with a Japanese term I learned of in a literature course here at TUJ, 物の哀れ (もののあわれ) mono no aware. The term describes the sad but reflective feeling that comes along with the transience of things on Earth and in life, but in Japan this idea, along with viewing sakura in the spring time, seems to signal a chance to take a “time-out” from life to appreciate the concept itself and your own life. It’s also a time to connect with nature, and in Japan sakura viewing is an important part of your spring.
What is hanami?
Hanami (花見/はなみ) is a word for the act of viewing sakura; hana (花) means “flower” (and was at one time used to mean only sakura, not necessarily all flowers), and mi (見/見る) means “eyes” or “to watch.” Hanami is the act of picnicking under sakura trees to view their blossoms with friends. Usually people find grassy spots that have many sakura trees around them to picnic under, and a lot of people turn out to celebrate the custom. One of the more popular and unexpected spots for sakura I passed by quite a few times was Arisugawa Memorial Park (有栖川宮記念公園), which is the park that beautifully encases Tokyo Metropolitan Library (東京都立図書館).
Be sure to check out some sakura if you study abroad in Tokyo – it’s worth your time! Take a walk in a park, stroll across a bridge, or pick a spot to have lunch with friends if the weather is nice! Have fun!