Japan Today

Is hanami in Japan actually all that fun?

By Alex Sturmey

With the beginning of spring in Japan comes "hanami" (花見) or "flower viewing." The most famous occasions of hanami take place around the spring bloom of cherry blossom – or, as I like to call it, "the pink blizzard of happy fun times!" I’m waiting for the name to really catch on.

During this time the whole country goes nuts for cherry blossom. There’s a painfully-detailed forecast released around January every year that shows exactly when your area will experience the cherry blossoms, from bud to pre-bloom, to full bloom to falling. See GaijinPot’s excellent example in the video below.

Sakura-themed products begin to fill store shelves with an array of weird taste combinations (think: sakura soba noodles and tofu with sakura salt) and sales of blue tarpaulin surge. All anybody talks about on TV is cherry blossom, every website will try and woo you with their Ultimate Guide to Cherry Blossom and every advertisement in every public place will be pink.

So what exactly is hanami?

I’m glad you asked. Hanami is a chance for you to go outside and revel in the few beloved weeks of spring that Japan has to offer before the rainy season hits. Hanami started out as a personnel pamper party for the Emperor and his chums but quickly spread to the rest of the country.

Although it was originally a party to appreciate nature, I like to think it was a bit different. Maybe after a war (as they had a lot of those back then) a bunch of people just decided that sitting around and looking at pretty trees was a better prospect than trying to poke each other with katanas.

So, with all of my friends already sick with sakura fever and the cherry blossoms soon headed to a park near me, I decided to investigate the madness and ask: is hanami actually all that fun?

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© GaijinPot

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I did this once with the inlaws reminds me a lot of kings day in the capital with the swarm of people but its really not my cup of tea.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Not a fan of places with many people.

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Ueno Park is a circus, but even in the city, you can go to Shinjuku Gyoen for a more civilized experience. There are still a lot of people, but it's a lot quieter and more polite.

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If the people with the blue sheets limit themselves to certain parks then it's tolerable. When you go there it is probably for that purpose, so if you enjoy it you'll have fun. It's when they start condoning off and "reserving" public places a week in advance and you can't enjoy them, or when drunkards start Urinating in public, polluting, black vans start blaring, etc, that's a problem. Every year in the park behind my house I remove blue sheets people put down, roping them off, and fold them up with the names they put on them, at the corner of the park so kids can rightly play there and people walk around freely. There need to be rules.

In any case, I like to walk around and look at the cherry blossoms, or have a small party in someone's yard, but I can definitely live without Hanami.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

get own cherry tree in backyard, BBQ

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's great in the countryside. Thanks to all the mountains, you can go several times because the trees bloom at different times at different altitudes.

My memory of going when I lived in the city was of night-time hanami after work. The trees were pretty when lit up, and the atmosphere was great, but it would always be too cold for the women to stay long and we'd end up the nearest chain izakaya we could get in with our group. Which in itself isn't that bad, but is not exactly traditional flower viewing.

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For small groups, that's fine but if you need mat space for a large group, the blue tarps are unfortunately the only cost-effective option for an organiser. Of course just telling everyone to bring their own mats is an option, but not the most convenient given how people will arrive and leave at different times.

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Yes it's fun but now I have a couple of children in tow I have to limit myself a bit! The only thing I can't stand is the blue tarps everywhere just getting binned. I dislike sitting on tarps anyway (especially when it's hot) but I just don't understand why people don't buy a comfy sheet or picnic mat that they can reuse at the beach etc.

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i love the atmosphere, especially at night hanamis! often i would just join another groups party uninvited! the boozy atmosphere makes everyone friendly! completely uninvited, just go and sit down on their rug!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I'm glad I don't have to deal with the big city crowds, but I do enjoy seeing people out having fun in the spring. I just hope the university students take it easy. There always seems to be an alcohol poisoning case or 2 around this time.

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I live in the country and Hanami is fantastic. It is one of my favourite times of year. Basically in the countryside there a lot fewer company parties and mostly parties involving family and friends, so it is usually very relaxed and fun. This is the kind of Hanami I like.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

it depends on the cuteness of the ladies in attendance! it can be very fun but also very disappointing

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Yeah, the only 'problem' is with the tendency for people to have their events in the same park on the same weekend regardless of where they actually live (Yoyogi and Ueno are main destinations for Tokyo I think, but is true of any major park). A 'hanami picnic' itself is basically just a regular picnic with nicer than usual scenery if you make a decent choice of location. It's as fun (positive or not) as any other gathering of friends/new friends over food and drinks.

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The article, while much to the point, I think is talking solely about Large Urban Park Hanami Free for Alls.

All cities have these, but from my limited experience, things have toned down over the last 20 years. The excesses of the 80s / 90s are not as prevalent (eg super loud karaoke, beer kegs, drunken men peeing not so far out of view etc).

But there are so many nice places to enjoy a more civil Ohanami with less crowds and boisterous revelry. Especially in quieter parks and the country-side, although you have to pick your day, because sunny, full bloom weekends will draw people out to anywhere.

And these days I've certainly lost the attraction to sitting on blue plastic tarps, shoulder to shoulder with the mob. But give me a group of friends, new and old, with bbq, drinks, blossoms and space to move far from the madding crowd and I'm in.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

agreed. just another reason to get drunk and deal with annoying crowds. i can get drunk alone..

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

When there are as many people as in the photo, then it is definitely not fun. I think I have outgrown hanami parties.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

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