Finally the winter months have begun to thaw and the first hints of spring are in the air, what bliss. For Japan, it means that the peak of the seasonal calendar is soon at hand. That’s right: It’s cherry blossom season and that means hanami parties. Between mid-March and early May, sakura trees bloom throughout Japan, covering the country in a canopy of pretty pink blossoms and making everything feel like the opening credits of an anime in the process. They remain, without a doubt, one of the quintessential experiences on offer here in Japan and definitely an item on any traveler’s bucket list.
So how exactly does one cherry blossom? The hanami or blossom viewing party (花見, literally “flower viewing”) has been around nearly as long as Japanese culture itself, with the practice first being mentioned by the Nara royals back in the early 700s. The premise is simple: simply gather a group of friends, find a nice patch of ground then sit on it and look at the flowers while you eat and drink to your heart’s content while listening to music and catching up on the latest gossip. All in all pretty straight forward, but this then brings us to the tricky bit: hanami hits in a BIG way in Japan, for the week or so that the blossoms last and competition is fierce.
Staking out the perfect hanami spot is by no means a task for the faint-hearted. Once the perfect balance of branches to balmy sky has been scouted and the tarps are down, it’s time to viciously guard your patch from interlopers until the rest of your gang arrive. Leave no tarp left unattended, lest it be coveted by roaming pensioners and always move in packs. Additionally, be sure to come well stocked with snacks and drinks as local combinis can be a long walk and often running low on popular purchases. There are of course the typical festival style stall foods on offer but they tend to be pricey and limited in variety.
Now finally the all-important question: where to have your hanami? Throughout Hyogo, there is a veritable cornucopia of options so why not venture to multiple locations if you can? The average local park will no doubt suffice as sakura trees are essentially everywhere. However, for a truly spectacular experience, any of the following locations are more than likely to meet your criteria. Takeda castle, pretty much anywhere on the main strip of Kinosaki, Akashi Park, Hokura and Gokoku shrines, Sumamura Park, Ako Misaki, Suwayama Park, Kannoji Temple, Shukugawa Park, Literally any temple in Arima and of course Himeji Castle. For those of you who are interested, there will be a formal Block 6 Osaka Castle Hanami and HAJET will be posting a Hanami event page with various locations that will be visited on particular days concluding with a large group event at Himeji Castle. Due to the fickle nature of the blossoms themselves the dates have yet to be decided and tentatively sit at somewhere between the end of March and the start of April. So grab your tarps and beers and join us in the gardens for a floral event you won’t soon forget.