We Should All Adopt 'Hanami,' the Japanese Tradition of Flower Viewing

In Japan, celebrating the transient beauty of flowers is a beloved custom when the cherry blossoms spring to life.

groups of people picnic and practice hanami at brooklyn botanic garden under cherry blossom trees sakura

Andria Patino / Getty Images

From the culture that brought us shinrin-yoku—forest bathing—it may come as little surprise that the Japanese have a lexicon of words describing the celebration of spring's flowering trees.

Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” although it commonly refers to viewing cherry (sakura) blossoms in particular. The practice dates to the Nara period in the 8th century—back then it was ume (plum) blossoms that brought flocks of people to the trees. But during the next few centuries, the popularity of sakura reigned supreme.

"Amidst the Beauties of Springtime – Dwarf Cherry Trees at Omuro Gosho Temple" 1904.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress/Public Domain

Hanami is both a noun and a verb, it is a celebration, but one can also “do hanami.” And how does one do hanami? It can be as simple as a walk amongst the trees or a few moments of reveling in the individual beauty of one. But it is often much more.

Traditionally it includes a picnic/party set beneath the pink clouds of sakura—there are friends and family, favorite foods, and sake. And of course, there is reverence for the trees and the fleeting transience of the blossoms, which last no more than two weeks.

And the custom is not reserved just for daylight. Evening hanami is called yozakura and is made all the more beautiful with lanterns and special lighting to illuminate the blossoms against the dark night sky.


Yukikae4B / Shutterstock

There is so much to love about hanami. In The States we celebrate trees at Christmas ... by cutting them down and watching them die in our living rooms. We have Arbor Day, which may be the most forgotten child of the holiday family. But we are nothing without our trees and we should be singing their praises every day. Starting with a few weeks in spring when they're at their most exuberant is a lovely way to start.