What is the Japanese Sakura and why does it need to be seen in the Spring?
If there was a global competition for celebrating the arrival of Spring, Japan would win. The country turns itself pink, first in the South and then up through the North and that vibrant pink of many shades is the result of the Japanese Sakura, or cherry blossom.
Spring is a symbol of new beginnings and the cherry blossom in Japanese culture is a symbol of Spring. The Sakura is also recognised as a symbol of Japan and has been the signal to start rice planting since ancient times. This is why visiting Japan during the three weeks of the year when the cherry blossom blooms, should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The first blossoms are awaited with so much anticipation, that regular updates on when those precious first buds are expected to open are forecast by the meteorological office. This usually occurs from late March to mid April.
Once the cherry blossom does eventually bloom, the festive mood is infectious. Party picnics are thrown under local cherry blossoms with everyone from the town invited. There’s even a word in Japanese for partying under a cherry blossom tree once it’s in bloom – hanami.
There are over 200 varieties of cherry blossom trees to spot and food stalls are often set up near to popular hanami sites to accommodate the parties. It’s an incredible sight and easy to see why flower viewing is so deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. The beauty of the cherry blossom inspires many people to put up an easel to start painting, as well as compose ‘waka’ poems in their honour.
If you’d like to visit Japan, the three weeks of the Sakura is a magical time. Aspen Travel has partnered with Wendy Wu tours to bring you escorted tours of the country’s highlights while they’re cloaked in pink. To help you make the most of your visit, in this post, were going to give you an insight into what to do at a hanami, possible itinerary schedules and we’re going to help you find the very best viewing points.
How to have a Hanami under the Sakura.
You’ll need something to sit on, while you eat your picnic bento, which can be purchased from most food outlets. Special hamani-themed bentos (which are ornate Japanese lunchboxes) may contain a combination of rice, vegetables and sashimi. Many Japanese families take with them a plastic picnic sheet or a straw mat. It’s perfectly acceptable to put your mat down to reserve a good spot, but take care not to take up more room than you’ll need.
Floor cushions and disposable chopsticks will come in handy, as will warm clothes, because it’s not the warmest time of year. Once settled with your food and wine, enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of one of the prettiest festivals in the world.
A week in Japan with Wendy Wu
Wendy Wu offers luxurious all-inclusive packages that will take you from Tokyo to Osaka, giving you leisure time to explore your destinations and an English-speaking guide to help you navigate Japan’s main attractions. Your flights, transfers, hotels, food and entrance fees are all included. Let’s have a look at where you’ll visit on one of Wendy Wu’s three main Cherry Blossom tours. Firstly here’s the itinerary for the “Week in Japan” tour:
Tokyo is where ancient Japan meets a modern neon world. You’ll visit the old temples along the back streets, but also the world’s tallest tower; the Tokyo Skytree. The Sensoji Temple dates back to the 7th century and stands in contrast to the noisy, bustling Nakamise shopping street. For a taste of traditional culture, your trip to Tokyo will include a trip to the Emperor of Japan’s home; the Imperial Palace Plaza and Hamaniku Gardens which are decorated with a historical flourish.
The best places to view the cherry blossom in Tokyo are the Shinjuku and Ueno parks, each of which have over 1000 trees. These bloom early and attract quite a crowd. Sukayama Park is popular with locals as it is one of the oldest viewing points for this spectacular, but if you’d like to see the blossoms reflected in the water, you’ll need to head over to the moats around Edo Castle or take a boat trip along the Sumida River, through Sumida Park. If you travel over to Meguro River at night, youll see the trees lit up.
Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and its peak is often shrouded in clouds. If the weather permits, your Wendy Wu tour guide will take you to the fifth station and on a cable car. As you pass the 5 lakes on your way there, keep your eyes peeled for the sights along the northern and eastern shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, which are lined with cherry blossom trees! The Chureito Pagoda in the Mount Fuji area is also another great viewpoint.
This was the capital city of Japan until 1867 and still retains a lot of its ancient Japanese culture and legacy. You’ll experience a traditional tea ceremony and meet Geisha, as well take a class in origami. Big attractions of the city include the shrine to Shinto, the god of rice; Fushimi Imari Shrine, the Ryoanji and Kinkakuji temples and a zen garden decorated in the dry fashion with plenty of sand and decorative rocks.
This is the city of the weeping cherry blossom and the best place to see this unique variety is in Maruyama Park, where a giant weeping cherry blossom is a lit up centrepiece. The Philosophers Path beside the canal and Nakanoshima Park at the foot of the Arashiyama Mountains are also well worth a look.
Todaiji Temple is a huge wooden structure, the grounds of which house one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan. This is just one of the 8 world heritage sites in the area. Nearby Nava Park is close to a hill known as Wakakusayama; a great Sakura viewing point.
It is widely believed that Japan’s third largest city, Osaka, is one of the best cities in which to view the cherry blossom. They grow along the banks of the Osaka river for miles and are plentiful in the area surrounding Osaka castle. While you’re here, a visit to the Dotonbori district is a must. Here you’ll find an enormous variety of restaurants selling delicious, freshly prepared food.
Jewels of Japan by Wendy Wu
The Jewels of Japan tour incorporates all the destinations outlined above, but in addition, will also take you to Hiroshima. Hiroshima became famous when the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped upon it in 1945, obliterating a 2km wide area. The entire area had to be rebuilt, with nothing older than that year remaining.
Wendy Wu will take you to the city’s main attraction; a memorial to the bomb, the Peace Park Museum, although you may choose to opt out of this excursion if you think you’ll find it upsetting. It’s surrounded by beautiful grounds containing paths, lawns and approximately 300 cherry blossom trees. At nearby Hiroshima castle there are 450 cherry blossom trees to observe and in Hijiyama Park there are about 1300 trees!
You’ll also take a ferry over to the small island of Miyajima, which is known for its Itsukushima shrine.
Discover Japan by Wendy Wu
The Discover Japan tour is one of the longer tours of the country. It incorporates the destinations outlined above, but in addition includes a trip to Takayama and Kanazawa.
One of the most memorable sights in Takayama, apart from the cherry blossoms obviously, are the 16th century festival floats on display at the Exhibition Hall. You’ll have a chance to marvel at the craftsmanship of these, as well observe the bridge over which the floats were carried; the Nakabashi Bridge, which incidentally is also a great Sakura viewing spot.
Other attractions include the Kusakube Folk Museum, which is decorated in the Edo period style and the Miyagawa Ryokuchi Park, which is a popular Hanami picnic spot.
Viewing the cherry blossoms in the Kenrokwen Garden can be done as part of a hanami picnic or from a nearby, strategically-placed tea house. These are known as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Other iconic landmarks here include the Nomura Samurai family House and the Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses a huge collection created from 1980 onwards.
Booking your trip
Are you tempted to join the hanami? The Sakura is happening at the moment and in order to see it this year, you need to be getting on a flight within the next week or so. Or, you could take this opportunity to book your Wendy Wu trip to Japan next Spring now.
The Aspen Travel team have been trusted booking partners of Wendy Wu for many years and can give you all the information you need about this fascinating country and your all-inclusive package. Please get in touch with your questions. We can make the booking process simple and cost effective.
Cherry Blossom viewing points information from: http://www.japan-guide.com