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Hanami

From Academic Kids

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A hanami party

Hanami (花見, lit. "flower viewing") is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, "flower" in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms (Jp. sakura), or also plum blossoms (Jpn. ume). From late March to early April, sakura go into full bloom all over Japan. The blossom forecast (桜前線, "sakurazensen" or "cherry blossom front") is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly means of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura, which are pretty in daylight and enchanting at night. Hanami at night is called yozakura (literally "night sakura"). In many places such as Ueno Park temporary paper lanterns are hung for the purpose of yozakura.

History

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Close up on plum blossoms

The practice of hanami is many centuries old. The custom is said to have started during the Nara Period (710–784) when the Chinese Tang Dynasty influenced Japan in many ways; one of which was the custom of enjoying flowers. Yet, it was ume (plum) blossoms that people admired at that time, and by the Heian Period, sakura came to attract more attention. From then on, in tanka and haiku, "flowers" meant "sakura".

Hanami was first used as a term analogous to cherry blossom viewing in the Heian era novel Tale of Genji. Whilst a wisteria viewing party was also described, from this point on the terms "hanami" and "flower party" were only used to describe cherry blossom viewing.

Sakura originally was used to divine that year's harvest as well as an announcer of the rice-planting season. People believed in gods' existence inside the trees and made offerings at the root of sakura trees. Afterwards, they partook of the offering with sake.

Emperor Saga of Heian Period adopted this and held flower-viewing parties with sake and feasts underneath the blossoming boughs of sakura trees in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. Poems would be written praising the delicate flowers, which were seen as a metaphor for life itself, luminous and beautiful yet fleeting and ephemeral. This is said to be the start of hanami.

Close up on cherry blossoms
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Close up on cherry blossoms

The custom was originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court but soon spread to samurai society and by the Edo period to the common people as well. Tokugawa Yoshimune planted areas of cherry blossom trees to encourage this. Under the sakura trees, they had lunch and drank sake in cheerful feasts.

Today, people continue with the tradition of Hanami, gathering in great numbers wherever the flowering trees are found. Thousands of people fill the parks to hold feasts under the flowering trees, and sometimes these parties go on until late at night. In more than half of Japan, the cherry blossoming period coincides with the beginning of the scholastic and fiscal years, and so welcoming parties are often opened with hanami.

In the teasing proverb "花より団子" ("hana yori dango", or ""dumplings rather than flowers") the abstract appreciation of the cherry blossoms is unfavorably compared with the acts of substance represented by the dumplings. (A punning variation— translated "Boys Over Flowers"—is the title of a manga and anime series.)

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