Hanami, or flower viewing, is an annual Japanese tradition dating back many centuries. It signifies the arrival of spring, when the landscape becomes ornamented by delicate bursts of pink, white and red cherry blossom flowers. The event is eagerly anticipated by locals (and tourists), who decorate their surroundings in splashes of pink and red. The excitement is such that even the daily weather reports on television feature segments about when and where the first cherry blossom blooms will occur.
This year, I was lucky enough to be in Japan during the peak of the cherry blossom season. During my first weekend in Japan, I made my way to Ueno Park, a popular destination for hanami. The park has been a dedicated public green-space since the 1870s and it’s sheer size is impressive, particularly for a highly concentrated metropolis like Tokyo. Despite its size, Ueno was very busy. I saw many people sitting under the pink cherry blossom canopies, enjoying food, drinks, music and games. Market stalls, buskers, and street food vendors all add to the atmosphere.
People were so caught up in the hanami that they did not seem to mind us tourists weaving our way through the mosaic of picnic blankets. The beauty of the cherry blossoms and the celebrations had me mesmerised as well. I forgot the fact that there were a number of shrines, two museums and a zoo at Ueno Park. At night, the fairy lights and paper lanterns that ornament the cherry blossoms make them more magical. The cherry blossoms captivated me even as they wilted and rained down like pink snow and littered the ground.
I must admit, I was a little envious that the Japanese people and their hanami. Seeing the delicate pink and red cherry blossom flowers stop an industrious nation made me wonder what type of impact a similar celebration will have in Australia. A celebration which transcends the occasional bushwalk or trip to the beach. One where the entire nation stops and collectively enjoys being outdoors, reconnecting with nature and their family and friends. Many organisations in Australia are actively seeking ways to encourage people to spend time outdoors. The health, wellbeing and economic benefits of reconnecting with nature are well documented. Maybe it is time for us to come up with our own hanami.