Have you been keeping an eye on Japan’s sakura (cherry blossom) forecast this year? If not, take a look because cherry blossom season is here! That means it’s time for sakura-flavored snacks at the 7-11, hanami (cherry blossom viewing) under the branches, and pink petals floating everywhere. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the history of hanami, tell you the best spots for viewing sakura in Hikone, and show you other ways to enjoy this springtime sensation.
Hanami originated with rich Nara-period nobles, who marked the passing seasons with events like moon, flower, and Mt. Fuji viewing. They were actually imitating the Chinese aristocracy, who were especially into plum blossoms and writing poetry. The Japanese court also started out looking at all kinds of flowers, but eventually decided that sakura were the prettiest and most poetic because they only lasted for a few weeks.
As time went on, this became a national craze even beyond the emperor’s gardens. Everywhere sakura trees grew people could appreciate them – although they did it in different ways. Among the common class, eating and drinking, rather than writing poetry, became the way to go. Today a similar type of appreciation has continued in the form of hanami: friends, family, and/or coworkers get together to stake out a spot under the blossoms and spend the whole day enjoying food, drink, and the magnificent pink blooms.
You probably want to know where you can go to see some yourself while you’re in Shiga, don’t you? Well, there are tons of cherry trees in Hikone, so you can find a spot to hang out and enjoy them without having to look very far. But Hikone Castle is actually recognized as one of the tops spots for sakura in Shiga prefecture; the moat covered in fluffy light-pink blossoms is an unforgettable sight.
You’ll see trees lining the road most of the way from JCMU to the castle, and once you get to the castle grounds, you’ll be surrounded. If you’re looking for a place to sit, just keep circling the castle till you come to any of the the little courtyard orchards. Throughout most of sakura season, there’ll be a festival held at Hikone castle with food stalls, music, and illuminations at night. Go check it out!
Another way to hop on the sakura craze is with Japan’s favorite form of consumerism: themed snacks and drinks. Everything from Coca-Cola to Calbee turns pink and flowery during the early spring. That means sodas, candies, chips, puddings, cakes, and anything else you can think of. Sometimes this overlaps with the Easter-themed snacks, and the pink sweets get bunny ears or little chicks added on as well. Many foods are just dyed pink, but there’s a distinct sakura flavor as well that’s different from just plain cherry. It’s often described as a lighter, more flowery version.
Traditionally, however, sakura flavor was quite different. Seasonal sweets were made using the actual flowers and leaves, which were pickled in salt, producing a mixed salty-sweet flavor meant to balance out sweet mochi or an. So sometimes that’s the taste you’ll find in sakura-flavored snacks, especially traditional sweets like sakuramochi, which has an entire leaf wrapped around it.
In addition to foods, you’ll see sakura everywhere in ad campaigns, decorations, and symbols. It’s so popular that it’s come to represent lots of things important to Japanese culture—samurai, first loves, the ending and beginning of the school year, imperfect natural beauty, and more. So this spring, why not find out for yourself why everyone loves hanami? It’s a feast for all the senses with sakura season in Japan.