Tokaido Sakura Journey Enjoy the coming of spring | Japan Highlights Travel, for sightseeing around Tokaido

Kyoto Station "Philosopher's Walk"

Ever since they were first told of in the ancient Manyo poems, it has been clear how close "sakura", or cherry blossoms, are to the hearts of Japanese people. Furthermore, customs like "hanami" and "kan'o", in which people gather beneath sakura trees in bloom in order to view their blossoms, have remained very important customs to the present day. For the Japanese, the word "sakura" is practically synonymous with the word for flower, "hana". In other words, sakura, harbingers of the coming of spring, are an intrinsic part of Japanese culture.

  • The charm of "sakura", inspiration of poets

  • "Sakura" were a frequent theme for traditional Japanese songs and poems like waka and haiku, as a symbol of spring and also as a word used to stand for flowers in general.
  • For example, the "Kokinwakashu", a collection of poems from the early Heian period, leaves us many words which lament the fleeting lives of the cherry blossoms, such as those of Ariwara no Narihira, who wrote, "If there were no sakura in the world, how calm our hearts would be in spring," or Ki no Motonori, who put it, "The light filling the air is so mild this spring day, so why do the cherry blossoms fall in such haste?"
  • Sakura are beautiful in full bloom and also when they are about to fall. Feeling this way may be a sensitivity which is peculiar to the Japanese, a sensitivity which reflects both the impermanence and decisiveness of a blossom at the moment it falls.

Mishima Station "Mishima Taisha Shrine"

Kyoto Station "Daigo-ji Temple"

  • 1200 years of

    "kan'o"

  • Feasting beneath the sakura blossoms, in other words "hanami", is a Japanese spring tradition.
    Hanami has a long history, and first began as "sakura-gari" among sakura trees growing wild in the mountains. These wild trees were introduced into places where people lived, and it is said that Emperor Saga conducted the first "kan'o-kai" (literally "kan'o party") in the south hall of the Imperial Palace in 812 AD.
  • If it's a question of which is the most famous hanami in history, then the answer is probably the "Daigo no Hanami" held at the behest of Lord Hideyoshi Toyomi. In the 1598, Lord Hideyoshi had 700 sakura trees planted in the grounds of Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto, and held a grand feast which was attended by some 1300 guests.

  • The Edo period:

    "Hanami" for everyone

  • Hanami came to be loved by the common people and not just members of the royalty and nobility, but it was most usual to admire a single sakura tree planted within the precincts of a shrine or temple, or within the gardens of a feudal lord.
  • In the Edo period however, hanami as enjoyed by ordinary people underwent significant change. The people from Edo found a refreshing aspect in the scattering of the sakura, and likened to their own local character such attributes as the unpredictability of when they would bloom. In particular, Edoites saw the very image of their own temperament in the somei-yoshino, a variety cultivated towards the end of the Edo period which would come into bloom all at once, only to scatter just as suddenly. They would try to predict when the trees were going to bloom, and in groups of friends flock to popular sakura spots, armed for the occasion with snacks and sake.
  • Following the Meiji Restoration, the somei-yoshino variety began to be planted all over the country, and with it spread this Edo-style hanami.

Gifu-Hashima Station
"Shimin-no-Mori Hashima Park"

Tokyo Station "Ueno Onshi Park"

  • What's that? Before sakura,

    "plum" stood for "flower"?

  • There is an Edo hauta (a kind of folk song) which asks, "Are the ume blossoming? And do the sakura still not?" So the blossoming of ume, or plum trees, also announces the beginning of spring. In fact, sakura hanami began only in the Heian period, while in the preceding Nara period ume was the blossom of choice, plum trees having only just been introduced from China. In the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, the "Manyoshu", works which mention ume actually outnumber those about sakura. This situation is reversed in the Heian period's "Kokinwakashu".
  • It may well be the case that for the Japanese, ume and sakura are not just flowers, but also symbols which reflect the very spirit of the Japanese people.

Toyohashi Station "Mukaiyama Ryokuchi Plum Garden"

Spring in full bloom:

Many ways to enjoy sakura

To sum up our history of Japanese hanami, let's look at some of the diverse ways modern people have for enjoying sakura. Sakura, with one face by day and still another by night; sakura, bringing people together to laugh and smile; sakura, delightful when the first blossoms appear, delightful decked in full bloom, and delightful when their petals fall.... Let's hope that this year too, we can all enjoy this beautiful yet fleeting dream time to our heart's content.

  • Kyoto Station "Kiyomizu-dera Temple"

  • Sakura by night, adding bewitching color to the darkness
  • If you want to enjoy the all-to-brief sakura period to the full, be sure to take in some "yozakura" (literally "night sakura"), and catch the sakura revealing an expression which is quite different from the one they wear in the daytime. The spectacle of illuminated sakura standing in bewitching relief against the backdrop of night is nothing short of fantastic. There is nothing to match the transient beauty of the petals as they flutter down, glimmering faintly, and scatter on the ground.

    1. Tokyo, Shinagawa
      [ Ueno Onshi Park ]
    1. Kyoto
      [ Kiyomizu-dera Temple ]

Kyoto Station "Philosopher's Walk"

※Depending on the weather, natural conditions etc., it may not be possible to see views like the ones in the photos / articles above. Furthermore, blooming and event schedules may vary.

updated on Mar 25, 2016