It happens annually, thousands of Japanese swarm to parks, river banks and gardens to sit under and enjoy the spring cherry blossom.
The history of blossom viewing goes back to around the year 790. According to historical records, the aristoracy would enjoy the beauty of cherry blossom, while the general populace were left in ignorance. It was around 1583, shortly after the construction of Osaka Castle that Japan’s ruler at the time, a man name by the name of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, introduced the “common folk” to the wonder of cherry blossom viewing. He allowed the citizens of Osaka city to enter the huge park surrounding the castle and enjoy the blossom. It is said that the samurai believed cherry blossom was, or is, the same as life, in that it only lasts a short time and therefore should be cherished and celebrated.
Each year the national Meteorology Department notifies the population of the best places to visit for the purpose of viewing cherry blossom, during a particular spring month. The island of Okinawa begins cherry blossom viewing in mid March, while mainland Japan must wait until the second week of April, while the northern island of Hokkaido – late April or early May.
So, what happens at a cherry blossom viewing party? In the 1980’s and early 1990’s karaoke parties under the trees with copious amounts alcohol were common. In the 21st century, however, people do a variety of other things. BBQs, frisbee throwing or a few friends struming guitars and singing, are just three kinds of activites this writer sees in recent years. Naturally, during all the fun and games, alcohol is still consumed by the gallon or liter. Cherry blossom is, to the people of Japan, the “beginning” – the long cold winter has passed. It is a time to start new jobs, for children to begin new schools and colleges, to join sporting clubs, to begin a new hobby and to change your life in some way.
By far the best time of year to visit Japan is during the cherry blossom viewing season – April through end of May.