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Flower Viewing Tradition: Japanese Cultivated Cherry Trees for their Beauty

Woodblock print of Mount Fuji and cherry blossom from 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Hiroshige.

Flower Viewing- Woodblock print of Mount Fuji and cherry blossom from 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Hiroshige.

Spring in Boulder, Colorado  –  Time for a ‘Flower-viewing’ Party!

Here at Now & Zen one of our favorite ways to relax is to view the Cherry Blossoms in Japan.  Of course, it is not possible to travel so far away very often, so we try to take a moment to enjoy flowering trees and flowers each day during the spring-time in Boulder, Colorado.

Here is a brief description of the origins of the “Flower viewing” tradition in Japan:

Hanami (“flower viewing”) is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, “flower” in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms, or ume blossoms. From mid January to early May, sakura bloom all over Japan. The blossom forecast is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week or two.  In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. Hanami at night is called yozakura.

Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Flower Viewing- Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

During the Heian Period (794–1191), Japanese sought to emulate many practices from China, including the social phenomenon of flower viewing where the imperial households, poets, singers and other aristocrats would gather and celebrate under the blossoms.  In Japan, cherry trees were planted and cultivated for their beauty, for the adornment of the grounds of the nobility of Kyoto, at least as early as 794.  In China, the ume “plum” tree (actually a species of apricot) was held in highest regard, but by the middle of the ninth century, the cherry blossom had replaced the plum as the favored species in Japan.

Sakura spring blossoms

Flower Viewing- Sakura spring blossoms

Emperor Saga of the Heian Period adopted this practice, 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 was said to be the origin of hanami in Japan.

Cherry Blossoms

Flower Viewing- Cherry Blossoms

Hanami festivals celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom and for many are a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful view.

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