Japan: History of Hanami
The excellent 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about 85-year-old sushi master and Michelin 3-star chef Jiro Ono, has many takeaway lessons. One that explicitly emerges, however, is the single-minded meticulousness of purpose that seems to drive Japanese artisanship and craftsmanship. It is a national and cultural sensibility that fetishises delicacy, refinement and the pursuit of elusive perfection.
This is no half-truth generalisation. One has only to witness a honyaki carbon steel knife smith at work in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. Or, indeed, a Tsukiji Market toro tuna monger, origami master, ikebana flower arranger, zen garden landscape architect or manga artist.
All of this melds with Hanami. The word elegantly captures the reflexive happiness and enjoyment of cherry blossom (sakura) or plum blossom (ume) season. The custom of hanami probably dates to the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods, when specific rituals began to fabricate and formalise with the annual blossom bloom. Today, of course, cherry blossom season, which typically runs from March to May, is a major event and lures scores of tourists to specific parts of Japan.
With that, discover the best spots in the country to enjoy the traditional custom of hanami with locals.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku and Shibuya, Tokyo
You can frolic with the masses under the blossoms of Ueno and Sumida Parks but for connoisseur-level hanami in Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is the place to be. With lush lawns and more than 1,000 trees, a choice spot in the national capital metropolis.
Where to stay: Park Hyatt Hotel Tokyo
Ginkakuji and Nanzenji Temples, Kyoto
Likewise the Philosopher’s Path in UNESCO World Heritage Kyoto, which graces a handsome enclave between Ginkakuji and Nanzenji Temples.
Where to stay: Citadines Kyoto Karasuma Gojo
Kema Sakuranomiya Park
Over 5,000 cherry trees line the Osaka River. The riverside promenade of Kema Sakuranomiya Park offers primo hanami space.
Where to stay: Ritz Carlton Hotel Osaka
Yoshino, Nara Prefecture
Mount Yoshino comes alive with sakura splendor every April and has inspired some of the most famous poetry in Japan. The Nara Prefecture gem is a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.
Where to stay: Nara Manyowakakusanoyado Mikasa Ryokan
Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture
Hundreds of sakura trees adorn Himeji Castle, one of the first UNESCO sites in Japan and both a Special Historic Site and National Treasure.
Where to stay: Himeji Castle Hotel
Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture
Hirosaki Castle dates to 1611 and was the daimyo den of the powerful Tsugaru clan. The Important Cultural Property lures over 1 million cherry blossom spectators every April and May.
Where to stay: Hotel Dormy Inn Hirosaki Aomori
Honourable mentions: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Fuji Five Lakes and Northern Shores of Kawaguchiko, Yamazakigawa Riverside Nagoya, Handayama Botanical Garden, Miyajima Hiroshima, Megijima Island, Matsuyama Castle, Kumamoto Castle, Matsumae Park in Hokkaido.