I checked the ‘Sakura-zensen’ Sakura Blossom Forecast through the web and though it was not expected to be 100% accurate, it served as a gauge for planning my trip to Osaka and Kyoto. We arrived 3 days after the forecasted date and found the trees at Osaka Castle just budding. So we took a chance and made our way to Kyoto hoping for better luck with Sakura viewing.
The trees were also budding at the Kiyomizudera but have not bloomed gloriously as the skies have been overcast and we experienced some drizzling and heavy rain one afternoon.
There are over 100 varieties of cherry trees which are cultivated for ornamental uses and they do not produce fruit. Edible cherries usually come from related species Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus.
We found this picturesque spot at Kiyomizudera which is really a sprawling Buddhist temple complex with many annexes and it was an enjoyable amble.
It was a cold night but Maureen and I decided to make a dash to Kyoto’s favourite hangout for sakura viewing to see this centrepiece which is one gigantic and old ‘Shidarezakura’~ weeping cherry tree that is lit up at night.
‘Yozakura’ which means night blossom, is one aspect of Japan’s ancient cherry blossom viewing tradition.
Viewing the sakuras bathed in dim light had an ethereal and mystical effect and I liked the ambience except for the cold that was becoming unbearable by the minute and we hastened our footsteps.
Even at night, the cherry trees continue to charm us under the moon and lanterns as the petals subtly reflect the gentle light.
Heian Shrine was built in 1895 on the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and it is a partial replica of the original imperial palace from the Heian period. Kyoto was formerly known as Heian. There is a large number of Yaebeni Shidare ~ weeping cherry trees within the Shrine’s park but they usually bloom a few days later than the other cherry trees, so we missed the splendour.
Sakura blossoms typically last for about a week, which is why Hanami is a tricky thing for tourists who have to time it right to catch it.
We were captivated by groups of young people from the different universities in the Kansai region who have come to compete in this Sakura Dance competition. The loud pulsating music, energetic moves and formation coupled with their enthusiastic chant extolling the beauty of Sakuras reverberated at the fairgrounds. I now experience another aspect of Hanami in welcoming the lovely Spring and blossoming Sakuras.
As the weather was kind of chilly, we got hungry quickly and it was great to have ‘Okonomiyaki’ ~ veggie pancakes and piping hot Udon under a Sakura tree to stave off hunger pangs and at the same time keep warm.
Okazaki Canal is part of a canal network that connects Kamo River with Lake Biwa. During Hanami season, popular boat tours are conducted for those who wish to admire the beautiful trees along the canal more closely. It is really a visual delight!
‘Hanami’ which literally means viewing flowers has become a Japanese institution that is held all over the country during Springtime which is synonymous with Cherry blossom viewing. There is also an abundance of pretty flowers in Spring and some others like ‘Ume’ Plum, Camellias and the sweet-smelling Magnolias are commonly seen.
The origins of Hanami apparently dated back to more than a thousand years ago, when aristocrats would enjoy viewing the beautiful cherry blossoms that inspired them to write poems.
The sun is out and with the cold breezes blowing, the delicate sakuras welcome the spring with open petals.
There is a popular folksong titled, ‘Sakura’ and several other pop songs, as well as many commercial items like kimono, stationery and even dishware which feature the cherry blossom which the Japanese have come to love and embrace over the centuries.
The transience, extreme beauty and quick death of the sakura has long been seen as a metaphor for mortality and for this reason it is richly symbolic and is often used in Japanese art, manga anime, film and musical performances of ambient effect and even on their 100yen coins.
In modern times, Hanami is when the people in Japan have fun viewing sakuras and merrymaking. It traverses the different generations who come out in full force with home-cooked meals, bought take-outs and even BBQ’s for a fantastic picnic under the trees.
These flowers managed to sprout into existence out of the dry and harden bark; to me it seems like a picture of the resilience of mankind who eke out a living in spite of the challenging conditions or circumstances.
Sakuras begin blossoming in Okinawa in January and gradually move northwards to Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or beginning of April and finally reaching Hokkaido by May.
One of Japan’s most famous castles, it played a significant role in the unification of the country during the Azuchi-Momoyama period in the 16th century. Over 4000 cherry trees are planted all over the spacious grounds of Osaka Castle and a good spot to picnic at is at Nishinomaru Park located at the western citadel where wide lawns and the castle tower lit in the night is in full view.
It was a good trip and we were duly rewarded and greeted by generous showers of beautiful Sakuras all over Kyoto and Osaka. I had promised Maureen that she would see them and I was glad I did not break my promise.