Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
After a disastrous and tragic month of March this year in Japan, among the ongoing efforts to rebuild and accommodate for the dislocated hundreds of thousands, the blossoming cherry trees of April make us realize that life goes on. Impressive large cherry or "ume" trees are covered with mesmerizing pink flowers, their petals occasionally branching off and swaying peacefully in the warm spring breeze. Their breathtaking beauty provides a sense of hope for Japan's future.
This time of year is most popular for visiting Japan, and for good reason. Locals and tourists alike flock to witness the "Sakura" or cherry blossom. During this time the Japanese host an exceptional nature event that goes by the name of "Hanami," literally meaning flower viewing or observation. Hanami consists of picnics and feasts held under Sakura or cherry trees. It is said that "Hanami" began back in the 8th century during the Nara period. It was the Heian period when Emperor Saga himself started holding these flower-viewing parties. For a while the custom was limited to the ruling elite, and events were held in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. However, Hanami spread to Samurai society in the Edo period. It was further encouraged by Tokugawa Yoshimune who planted cherry blossom trees in various areas throughout Japan. The tradition continues to this day, and every year families and friends festively gather under Sakura trees from Okinawa in January to Tokyo in April to Hokkaido in May. Hanami during nighttime is known as "Yozakura." In Okinawa, for example, you will find Sakura trees decorated with hanging lanterns for this occasion.
You will find cherry blossom trees all over the country, though there are few specific places that are notable for holding the Hanami event. One place that should be there on your list is Yoshino-Yama located in the central part of Nara Prefecture. It is a mountainous region with over 30,000 Sakura trees. Also, the castle town of Hirosaki is notable for its Sakura Festival. Finally, if you are visiting Japan in the month of April, you should not miss out on the cherry blossom viewing tunnel at the Japan Mint in Osaka. This week long event draws hundreds of travelers. Even if you don't end up at these special locations - don't worry. Sakura trees are all over and they are all stunningly beautiful. Grab a picnic basket, a variety of Japanese foods, and enjoy.
Josh Shulman, Author of "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang For Your Yen" http://www.allyoucanjapan.com.