Let me start off by saying that I’m not a flower person. While I acknowledge that flowers are beautiful and occasionally get swooned by creative floral designs, I’m not one to buy flowers for decorations nor like to receive them as gifts. However, when you happen to visit Japan during Sakura (cherry blossom) season, it’s hard not to admire with them.
This year we were lucky to visit Japan during the Sakura full bloom. We decided to see how the Japanese practice hanami (flower viewing) at the Maizuru Park in Hakata . We arrived at the park a few hours before sunset and followed the crowd to the main area where there was a large field and a path that was lined with food stalls. I was surprised at the large number of people at the park even though it’s a Tuesday afternoon.
Being a food driven person, the first thing I did was bee-lined my way to the food stalls to check out what’s available. They have typical foods that you can find at the fair, such as yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), takoyaki, okinomiyaki and yaki-soba. There were a couple of children games/toys stalls in the mix. One was selling animal masks and the other was catching tiny goldfish from a kiddy pool. I was tempted to catch some goldfish but decided against it because it was difficult to take it back home.
The area beyond the food stalls were lined with sakura trees and everywhere I looked people taking photos of these beautiful cherry blossoms. One interesting thing I saw was where ever there was a low hanging branch, there’d be people taking selfies with it. I guess it’s not every day that you can get a branch full of cherry blossoms next to your face.
Below the cherry trees, people have set up picnic tables or lay tarps on the ground to claim their space. Food is a big part of hanami. Since drinking alcohol in public is allowed, people were enjoying beers with bento boxes (homemade or store bought) below the pink clouds of cherry blossom trees. We couldn’t participate in this tradition since we didn’t bring any picnicking gear or food with us. We ate at the food stalls instead and took a leisure stroll around the park to experience what it’s like to be surrounded by sakura.
After spending an hour at Maizuru Park, taking photos of sakura and observing the locals, it’s clear to me that the tradition of hanami is more than admiring the flowers at their finest. It has evolved into an activity that brings people together. City dwellers like us are usually so busy with work and other obligations in life. We often forget to enjoy what’s around us or take the time to connect with our family and friends. Since we have cherry blossoms in Vancouver, I will try to plan a flower viewing picnic with my family next Spring, although it’d be near impossible to do it on a weekday. If you have cherry trees in your city, how about planning your own hanami party with your loved ones!