The arrival of cherry blossoms signals the end of chilly winter weather in Japan. The blossoms appear first in Kyushu around the end of March and spread northward as the weather warms, reaching Tokyo in early April and Hokkaido in mid-May. The three main weather bureaus issue forecasts of where the "cherry-blossom front" is moving, and newspapers report the process from first flowering to full bloom.
People celebrate the flowering of cherry blossoms by moving outdoors - holding hanami picnics under the trees. These gatherings can be outings with family members, friends, or colleagues. At nighttime, people bring along beer, sake, and even karaoke sets with them to hold cheerful, often rowdy parties.
Cherry-blossom viewing began in ancient times when aristocrats wrote poetry and sang songs under the flowering trees. It has been the theme of numerous literary works, dances, and paintings. Even though modern parties aren't so refined as those of the past, people still find the blanket of light-pink petals deeply moving.
The Japanese like cherry blossoms because the shape and color of the petals reflect people's ideal notions of purity and simplicity. They are also touched by the blossoms that are so fragile and short-lived, scattering just a few days after they flower. Every time there is the slightest breeze, a shower of cherry-blossom petals is produced.
There are many sites around the country famous for their spectacular blossoms, such as parks, temple and shrine grounds, and cherry-lined streets, and at many of them cherry-blossom festivals are held. They are also popular hanami sites, and they tend to be very crowded while the flowers are in bloom.