A Step by Step Guide to Doing it Right!
Hanami season is one of the biggest attractions in Japan. Hanami refers to “cherry blossom viewing” and takes over the country for about six weeks. EVERYTHING is cherry blossom related: candies, ice cream, souvenirs, even commercials. It is many people’s favorite season!
In the simplest of terms, Hanami is a picnic under the cherry blossom trees with friends, co-workers, clubs, or family.
Because it is such a big deal, and it is much more involved than just “viewing some flowers,” I wanted to break it down for all of you. So here you are, a step-by-step guide to Hanami-ing (is that a word?).
Step one: watch the forecast. It is important to know when the trees will start blooming and when they will be at their peak. Both of these facts greatly impact availability and reservations. (That’s right, I said “reservations.” but we will get back to that in a minute). Most of the Japanese weather sites and newspapers will start projecting blossom dates in January. I usually watch the Japan National Tourism site for information as well (http://www.jnto.go.jp/sakura/eng/index.php).
In general, every area is expected to have about a two-week window to view cherry blossoms, but that doesn’t account for wind and rain. Both are detrimental to the delicate flowers so you have to be vigilant.
Step two: Pick a park. Most parks in Japan have some cherry blossom trees, even the little neighborhood parks. So you have to think about what it is you are looking for:
Do you want a full on festival, with food stands and entertainment? Do you want to be able to grill out? Do you want to see hundreds of cherry blossoms? Or are you looking for quiet and intimate? Maybe you want a unique experience – like horses in the park? or picnicking on a boardwalk?
This step may take some research, or none at all. You may already know where you want to go.
Step three: Make reservations (or stake claim). Some of the bigger, more famous parks will rope off areas and reservations can be made to get prime real estate. I’ve heard of people making reservation six months in advance. But for sure, even at the littlest of parks, you are going to have to send someone to the park earlier in the day to stake claim to your picnicking spot. It gets crowded fast. Usually representatives will start showing up around 9 to either outline their spots or start laying out the tarps. That brings me to…
Step four: What to bring with. After you have picked a park you will know if you can bbq or if fire is not allowed, so you can start planning lunch. Most Hanami parties start around 11 and last about 4 hours. Here is a simple list of what you’ll need to bring along to Hanami like a local:
- Hanami Mat – blue or green tarp to set up lunch, and lounge the afternoon away on.
- Grill (if needed for lunch)
- Umbrella (just in case)
- Tent (optional – great to take a nap, or corral little ones)
- Slip on shoe – it is a pain to have to tie and untie your shoes all day. Oh – I think I forgot to mention: No shoes on the tarp.
- Lunch (see step 5)
- Picnic games.
- Finally, Beer. This is of course optional, but recommended. Hanami is all about having a great time, and in Japan, that means beer and sake! Bringing some to share with your companions is recommended. Also, if you can bring some foreign beer to share with the locals, you’ll definitely make some new friends!
Step five: FOOD. Hanami is usually set up as a potluck, so bring something to share. You can make something or bring chips, candies, sushi from the local joint, fried chicken from a combini, anything you want!
If grilling, bring your own meat and veggies. You should bring enough to feed 3-4 people, not the whole group. (Unless otherwise instructed.) This is of course on top of our potluck contribution.
If it isn’t a big group thing, just a few people, then it doesn’t have to be as elaborate. I’ve seen simple picnic lunches of sandwiches and juice. Anything goes — you can even just have Dominoes deliver, and why not?!
Step six: have fun and take TONS of pictures. You MUST take thousands of pictures of the blossoms, pictures of your group in front of the trees, pictures of each person with the blossoms, etc, etc, etc. Make us proud!
I hope this helps!
I hit a few parks this year, but it was a bit chilly and rainy. Neither were a deterrent to the crowds of course, I just noticed many less grills than usual. I met some fun new locals, helped fish for tadpoles, and got to pet some horses.
Have you been cherry blossom viewing in Japan? What were your impressions?