What is Hanami - Japan's Flower Viewing Party

by Flora Baker

What is Hanami?

Did you know that there’s a word in Japanese specifically for viewing flowers? This is hanami, a beautifully transient event that takes place across Japan during the springtime. 

Blooming sakura trees in Koishikawa Korakuen garden, Okayama, Japan.

Hanami is actually a centuries-old tradition that’s all about the blooming of cherry blossoms.The Japanese cherry blossom is Japan's national flower You may have heard of sakura, or considered visiting Japan specifically for ‘sakura season’. That’s because sakura is the Japanese word for ‘cherry blossom’, and the country is literally covered with them: there are over 600 different species of cherry blossom trees across Japan that bloom each spring, creating a country-wide cacophony of pink and white flowers.

While sakura is the translated word itself, hanami is the act of viewing – hana means ‘flower’ and mi means ‘to view’. So hanami really is just as it sounds: a time to observe the fleeting beauty of this natural phenomenon which lasts for just a few weeks a year. There’s many cherry blossom festivals in Japan to celebrate this exciting event.

How the Japanese do Hanami

Hanami, also referred to as the Cherry Blossom Festival, is a quintessentially Japanese experience. Viewing cherry blossoms is a great bonding activity for friends, families, and couples. As people gather in parks, public gardens, and other popular viewing spots to gaze at the flowering blossoms, it’s also a perfect excuse for parties and picnics. Oftentimes, offices will hold large welcome gatherings for their employees: there’s plenty of singing and music along with a feast of food, and in many places, hanami celebrations will spill over into the evening. When the sun has gone down, you’ll see paper lanterns hung in the tree branches that help light up the yozakura (‘night sakura’).

Popular places to visit during hanami season are:

  • Himeji Castle, Kansai
  • Mt. Fuji Five Lakes
  • Ueno Park, Tokyo
  • Yoyogi Park, Tokyo
  • Maruyama Park, Kyoto

Dos of Hanami

As hanami parties are a popular activity, many city parks will fill up fast with eager sightseers. You’ll want to reserve a spot for your group to sit, perhaps by spreading out a tarp or blanket. And if you’re responsible for organizing the big hanami party, it’s worth checking that your chosen park actually allows picnics first! 

Don’ts of Hanami

It should go without saying that it’s very important to respect the traditions and culture of hanami. This means inflicting zero damage on the trees or blossoms themselves, and no plucking of petals to keep as souvenirs (particularly useful information for excitable children or those modeling for their Instagram feeds). 

In order to create an enjoyable atmosphere for others, hanami partiers are also encouraged to keep noise to a minimum and pick up all their trash upon leaving. 

Other Hanami picnic essentials

As the hanami festivities take place outdoors, it’s recommended that you bring all the essential sakura picnic items for partying al fresco. This might include: 

  • A picnic sheet or blanket for all your guests to sit on 
  • Paper plates, cups, napkins, and disposable chopsticks. Hand wipes and sanitizer are useful too
  • Garbage bags to clear all your trash out when you leave 
  • Some extra layers of clothing in case the weather gets cooler

There are plenty of hanami-specific foods that you can enjoy during the festivities. Everything cherry blossom-flavored is an immediate ‘yes!’ – we’re talking sakura candy and delicious hanami dango

Person holding up hanami dango in front of sakura trees.

In terms of drinks, you can bring any pre-packaged bottled drinks, though many will bring sweet sakura tea to drink. And you can’t go wrong with a nice bottle of sake, either. 

It’s a great idea to pack foods that travel well, and that can be shared amongst your friends too: bento boxes, sushi, fried chicken, edamame, and even some hot miso soup for the slightly chillier evening temperatures. 

Of course, you won’t go hungry if you don’t bring food for yourself. There are always plenty of street food carts at any hanami celebration: typical street snacks could include takoyaki, yakitori skewers, onigiri rice balls and store-bought bento boxes. 

When is the best time for cherry blossom viewing in Japan?

So, when is cherry blossom season in Japan? Springtime is a flexible season so there’s no hard and fast rule for cherry blossom viewing time, especially as warmer southern regions of the country will see their cherry trees blooming earlier than in the north. That said, most would agree that the best blooms usually appear between mid-March to early May. To put it simply, aiming a visit in late March/early April is most likely to result in seeing beautiful sakura blooms and backdrops. 

As cherry blossom season is so popular, the media even keeps tabs on the ‘cherry blossom front’, so it’s easy to plan your hanami parties successfully. 

Try Hanami Picnic Treats At Home

Host your very own hanami with a sakura-themed subscription box from Bokksu. The Sakura Boutique Collection includes sweet sakura flower tea and delicious snacks like chocolate-covered sakura petal cookies! If you love Japanese culture, our Japanese snack box subscription connects you with authentic treats straight from Japan.


Author Bio

Flora Baker is a writer, blogger and author based in London, UK. She runs the award-winning travel website Flora The Explorer and has written for Coastal Living, Telegraph, and National Geographic Traveler.