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Cherry Blossom Captivates Nation

April 11, 2000

Cherry blossom means that spring has come.

People in Japan consider March the beginning of spring. First the red blossoms of plum trees come out, signaling the start of the new season. Immediately after that, a tide of cherry blossoms begin to spread from the South to cover the whole nation. Cherry blossoms are inextricably intertwined with Japanese culture. When traditional Japanese poems refer to flowers, they usually mean cherry blossoms. The Japanese love affair with both plum and cherry blossoms goes back to ancient times.

Tracking the "Cherry Blossom Front"
Cherry blossoms are Japan's most beloved flower. But the peak season, when the trees are in full bloom, is extremely short. The flowers open all at once, and the petals all fall soon after. Every year during peak season, people have flower-viewing parties under the trees. Newspapers and magazines run feature articles describing good spots for people to picnic while savoring the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Daily TV news and weather forecasts report on the "Cherry Blossom Front," letting viewers know when, and for how long, the blossoms will be at their peak in each part of the country. The "Cherry Blossom Front" takes about a month to travel from south to north over the Japanese archipelago.

New Employees' First Assignments
Cherry-blossom viewing is one of the main rites of spring in Japan. Friends and coworkers hold lively gatherings under the trees, with plenty of food and drink on hand. There are many famous cherry-blossom-viewing spots throughout the country. Most of these spots are located centrally in towns and cities, either in parks or near public buildings, such as prefectural offices. In Tokyo, the most famous viewing areas are around the Imperial Palace, along the palace moat, and in Ueno Park. The more popular locations are packed with crowds of thousands, and many blossom fans get there the night before to grab the prime spots. April, when the cherry blossoms usually peak in the Tokyo area, is a time of new beginnings in Japan: The new school year is beginning; and new graduates are just starting work. The first assignment many new employees receive is to secure a spot for their company's cherry-blossom-viewing party. Springtime just would not be complete without a picnic amid the falling petals, and as long as there are underlings around, why should the senior employees have to go through the hassle of staking out a space?

A Full Calendar of Events
Many festivals and other events take place around cherry blossom time. One of the renowned blossom viewing spots in the Tokyo area is Asukayama Park, where the Sakura SA * KASO (costume) festival has taken place for the past three years. In 2000, it was held on April 1 and 2. This park has been a well-known spot for blossom viewing since the Edo period (1600-1868), when the eighth Tokugawa Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa had cherry trees planted there. Back in those days, cherry blossom season at the park attracted warriors and townspeople alike. People dressed in costume, and performers provided entertainment as well. The Sakura SA * KASO festival has revived the old custom of dressing in costume to view the cherry blossoms. The festival's headline event is, of course, a costume contest. There are also games, as well as skits and acrobatic performances; and vendors set up stalls around the park to hawk snacks, trinkets, and other goods. The arrival of the cherry blossoms, in their snowy profusion, sparks many similar cherry-blossom-related events all over Japan.

And Then the Petals Fall ...
The Japanese have a saying, Hana yori dango. Hana means flower, and dango is a traditional rice-flour dumpling. The saying means that some cherry-blossom viewers are more interested in the food, drink, and socializing than in the cherry blossoms themselves. Well, regardless of whether people prefer the food and drink or the flowers, the blossoms only last about a week before their petals start to fall. Then it is goodbye to cherry-blossom viewing until next year.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.