Enjoying Cherry Blossoms

During this season, Japanese people gather under cherry blossom trees and enjoy the traditional pastime called Hanami. Viewing cherry blossom trees at night is called Yozakura, and during this event, the trees are usually lit up with decorative lanterns or spot lights. The cherry blossom is one of the most loved flowers in Japan. The history of Hanami had a different meaning for the Japanese, and Hanami origins stem from ancient Japan.


The sacred tree is for the rice paddy god

Japanese are also known as being very agricultural people. During the spring, we can see the farmer who beds out rice-plants in the beautiful terraced paddy fields (Tanada). During ancient times in Japan, the calendar did not consist of the four seasons and blooming cherry blossoms marked the beginning of the spring planting season. From this, the Japanese believed there was a relation between the flower and rice paddy god. The cherry blossom is called Sakura. The word, ‘sa’ refers to the rice paddy god and the word, ‘kura’ shows a sitting seat for god. Sakura ultimately means, a sacred place for the rice paddy god to dwell. The Japanese also believed that gods lived in the mountains and would come to villages when the planting season would start. Blooming cherry blossoms were a favorable sign that god was coming to the village. The god would then, go back to the mountain with appreciation from the people for a full harvest in autumn.


From Shrine Rituals to Hanami

During ancient times, the cherry blossom was a sacred tree for the rice paddy god. Ancient farmers would pray, make offerings and have a feast, believing that cherry blossom trees would bring a full harvest. The feast under the tree was similar to a religious ceremony during these times and it slowly changed into a festival for enjoying cherry blossoms in the Nara period (710~794). During the Heian period (794~1192), the cherry blossom appeared in the many Waka poems and the flower became a national image to the Japanese. During the Edo period (1603~1868), a banquet style of Hanami was established for simple people. And now, Hanami is held as an annual event during spring to enjoy Japan.


The core beliefs have not changed from ancient times

When the rice paddy god came during the blooming of cherry blossoms, the ancient Japanese prayed for a full harvest. Nowadays, Hanami has become an event to enjoy beautiful flowers rather than a religious ceremony. The intent is still the same because rice is one of the most important foods to the Japanese and the cherry blossom is one of the most loved flowers in Japan.

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.