The Magic of Hanami: Japan’s Deeply Rooted Spring Tradition

THERE ARE intrinsic emotions embedded within our essence that are evoked from life’s ancient experiences. Life will endeavor to extract these feelings by sweeping through our soul as a flower-laden wind; I can’t understand why, but that breath of nature moves through us and fills the world with wonder.

It causes us to laugh, to smile, to hold each other close. And indeed, that archaic gust of wind causes the pink spring flowers to fall and, in doing so, bridges our hearts as people.

The following scene of spring — sakura season in Japan — will stay with me, for it evoked these feelings I can’t quite understand.

Quite simply, they’re the feelings of love.

We were one of the last groups in the park as the sun went down, blanketed in the glowing, beautiful darkness of dusk. It was getting cold, and the sea of people celebrating hanami, Japan’s springtime tradition which means looking at the flowers, had largely disappeared.

What I experienced and what I’ve seen for the past couple of weeks in Osaka is more than just looking at the flowers, however.

It’s celebrating life beneath them.

Hanami means picnicking with friends, family and loved ones beneath the plumes of pink and white blooming trees which resemble the clouds caught in the glow of the setting sun.

Each park, literally throughout Japan, has been packed on the weekends and much of the week since the flowers started blooming in March, turning the entire country into one big playground.

It’s been so, so cool to see.

Our group sat beneath the blooming cherry blossom trees, their pink and white and green petals falling, fading, twirling upon each gust of wind.

We huddled close with one another over cans of beer, sake, chips, pink Pocky sticks and chocolate snacks.

The petals fell upon our heads, the coats which laid upon the grass and our shoulders, and our drinks and food. That’s what it’s supposed to be, not just a viewing of the season, but feeling part of it.

An elderly couple walked past our group, the man a few strides in front of the woman as if eager to catch his final look at the blooming sakura before they’d be lost to night and perhaps the summer too.

He looked, he listened, he smiled as he passed our group, acknowledging not only the falling flowers but the scene as a whole, for he, too, seemed enraptured by the magic.

His wife and he sauntered up to a nearby tree and observed with care and intrigue; the smile on their faces never waned.

I imagined what they thought, how many times they’ve witnessed this ephemeral phenomenon; I wondered what it meant to the man who watched us for a moment: the setting sun, the comfort of his partner, perhaps a respect for us youth, who honored the tradition well into the evening where our laughter was all which echoed through the park.

It made me happy that we made him happy, doing what the Japanese have done for over a thousand years, hanami, a tradition that needs nothing more than the earth to spin and us — to slow our pace in awe.

Life moves so quickly; it felt like yesterday waiting for the budding sakura flowers to open up and bloom. Now the delicate petals fall from the sky and scatter with the rain.

They line the edges of the roads and lay across the pavement and the gravel of the shrines like the melting spring snow which leaves only traces of what once was.

The trees now turn to their summer hue.

Green leaves encroach upon the pink and white.

The moment’s come and gone, yet the feeling will stay with me; for a time I felt no longer an observer of a foreign spirit, but part of it.

I imagine our group as any other portrayed in a traditional woodblock print, smiling and laughing and locked in time, surrounded in love, looking at the flowers.

"Cherry Blossom in Full bloom at Ueno Park," by Ando Hiroshige
"Cherry Blossom in Full bloom at Ueno Park," by Ando Hiroshige
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