When it comes to viewing cherry blossoms, timing is everything.
Get the timing of your viewing party wrong, and all you’ll see in the park are little red buds or worse, a ground littered with the pink “snow” of fallen petals.
But get it right, and well … just take a look.
, hundreds of thousands of people flock to parks and gardens to enjoy picnics and gatherings and bask in the brief beauty of these bountiful blossoms.
Some dress up for the occasion.
Others create art in honor of the season.
The hanami tradition is said to have begun during Japan’s Nara period, when aristocrats would pass time in the spring admiring ume (plum) blossoms.
Over time, people began to associate hanami more with sakura blossoms, making springtime offerings to the Shinto spirits within the cherry trees in hopes of a good harvest to come.
In later years, Emperor Saga would hold feasts for his imperial court under the sakura blooms, drinking sake and listening to sakura-inspired poetry.
By the start of the Edo period, all levels of Japanese society were celebrating cherry blossom season.
Modern hanami parties don’t have to happen during the day. Evening gatherings when the blossom-laden branches are lit by lanterns or soft candlelight are also very popular (and pretty magical).
Because even on a rainy evening, sakura blossoms put on a show.
Though, to be fair, it can get a little crowded.
In 2015, a record 19.73 million overseas tourists visited cherry blossom hotspots in at least 18 Japanese cities.
Demand for space is so high, some companies wanting to throw hanami parties might send employees down hours before to reserve a spot.
One of the reasons cherry blossoms draw so much attention in Japanese culture is their natural impermanence.
Like all flowers, cherry blossoms are doomed to wither eventually. In Japanese culture this is seen as a metaphor for the ephemerality of life, an idea embodied in the unique concept of mono no aware.
I like to think of mono no aware, and sakura blossoms in general, as a reminder for all of us to be fully present in life’s moments as they happen.
To savor the beautiful, the sad, and the fleeting as both we and they will eventually float away.
“The cure for / this raucous world … / late cherry blossoms” 17th century Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa