A picnic beneath the cherry blossoms is a great way to enjoy them.
The first Hanami
Hanami is literally flower viewing, but in practice is used mainly to mean cherry blossom viewing. When they bloom, walking beneath the cherry blossoms or having picnics beneath them is the social event of the season.
How did Hanami start? Good question.
Cherry blossoms mark the beginning of the rice-planting season. Farmers would worship the cherry blossoms as a sign from the gods to plant the rice. Needless to say, this worship would involve drinking saké.
Emperor Saga in the Heian period was the first noble to take up this enjoyment of the cherry blossoms. Before this point, nobles preferred the plum blossoms, but he started organizing cherry blossom viewing parties and writing poetry about them. His parties led to other nobles starting their own parties and then common people starting their own, and pretty soon the entire country was celebrating hanami every year.
Funny thing is most of the participants at these parties are more concerned with eating, drinking, and being merry, than they are with actually looking at the cherry blossoms. This fact is bemoaned every year by the media, but the fact is it has always been this way. There is even an old proverb that comments on it: 花より団子 (hana yori dango)—dumplings rather than flowers.
Daily Photo: Let’s Enjoy Hanami
It looks like most of the people in this photo are enjoying the flowers rather than dumplings, despite the proverb, but then again this was taken during the day and during the week. The real hardcore hanami parties don’t begin until nightfall or weekends.