On the morning of 28th March, Boss Panda put down his newspaper, stood up and announced “お花見に行こう!” or, “let’s hanami!”
“Eh?” Kiku and Miko looked up in surprise.
“The cherry blossom season started on 23rd March this year,” explained the large bear, who was normally keen to stay at his home in the Bamboo Bathhouse. “That means that the flowers are now in full bloom. It is time to take a picnic and go for a stroll to enjoy the beautiful sight.”
Miko was almost beside herself when they left the bathhouse. She was so excited to enjoy food and drink with her friends under the blossoming trees. Even more exciting was that Mama Kojin had packed special hanami obento, or lunchboxes, complete with sakura shaped rice balls (onigiri) and little cherry blossom shaped vegetables.
“But why do the Japanese get so excited by the cherry blossom flowers?” asked Kiku. “Ah…” said Boss Panda… “to understand that you need to know about ‘mono no aware’ (物の哀れ)”. “What is that??” chimed Miko-chan and Kiku together.
“Well,” explained Boss Panda, “as with much of Japanese life, it is a very subtle thing, and is sometimes translated in English as ‘the sadness of things’, but it really means a sensitivity to life in all its aspects – not only sadness, but joy as well. After the shade of winter comes the light of spring, bringing about joy and hope, but the flowers of blossom only last for around two weeks, and so there is sadness when they fade and fall to the ground. This transience represents the whole of life, in a single flower, and the Japanese people are sensitive to this impermanence and how it should be celebrated.”
After spending a lovely afternoon, Kiku looked around for Miko, who was nowhere to be seen. After a search, they found her sitting beneath a large tree with a dazed look on her face. “Miko-chan?” said Kiku softly, not wanting to frighten her, “are you ok?”
“B-B-B-B-LOSSOMMMMMMM………’ was all she could say, and with a knowing look, Boss Panda picked the dizzy doll up from the ground and carried her home over his shoulder. “Miko-chan has overdone it, I’m afraid”, explained the frowning bear, “she has sakura sickness. We will take her home for a rest, and she should be ok by tomorrow.”
Kiku followed them along the blossom lined pathway, still soaking up the beauty and watching the sun go down.
Cherry blossoms and their arrival are a very big deal in Japan. People take part in hanami – which literally means ‘watching flowers’ and most often involves picnicking under a blossoming tree, or with a great view of them. It is also a rare occasion in which people get to leave their offices with their work colleagues and get some fresh air. People often take part in several hanami, with their work, and others with friends and family.
When the cherry blossoms open depends on the temperature (typically the very end of March and beginning of April), and the opening of the blossoms moves up the archipelago of Japan, from the southernmost islands up to the northern island of Hokkaido, and some people follow this ‘sakura front’ in order to film or photograph the beginning of spring as it arrives across Japan.
In Tokyo, when the first five flowers open on the sample trees in the grounds of the Yasukuni shrine, the cherry blossom season is declared officially ‘open’ with the ‘kaika sengen’ or ‘blossom bloom declaration’.
Full bloom is known as mankai and comes 5-7 days after the opening of the first flowers (known as kaika). After another 5-7 days, the petals begin to fall from the trees, a process often speeded up by wind and rain. A blizzard of falling petals is called ‘hanafubuki’, and where the trees are over water, the entire surface goes white or pink.