Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Practice of Hanami

The practice of Hanami is many centuries old. The custom is said to have started during the Nara Period (710-784) when the Chinese Tang Dynasty influenced Japan in many ways; one of which was the custom of enjoying flowers. Yet, it was Ume (plum) blossoms that people admired at that time, and by the Heian Period, Sakura (cherry) came to attract more attention. From late March to early April, Sakura go into full bloom all over Japan.
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The blossom forecast is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week. Large numbers of weeping cherry trees (shidarezakura) stand in the garden of Heian Shrine, behind the shrine's main buildings (picture above).
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For millions of Japanese, spring isn't only about the sight of cherry blossoms and the sweet smell of flowers filling the air. It's also a time of huge and largely invisible clouds of cedar pollen that will send them into fits of sneezing, eye-rubbing and nose-blowing. It is painful. Imagine as I have a VERY sensitive nose.
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A large majority of cherry trees in Japan are of the Somei Yoshino and Yamazakura varieties. But in total, over one hundred cherry tree varieties can be found in Japan. There are several characteristics that differ between the various cherry tree varieties.
a. Number of petals.
b. Color of the blossoms.
c. Fresh leaves.
d. Time of blooming.
e. Form of the tree.
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In case of early blooming trees, the fresh leaves usually do not appear until after full bloom, which gives the trees an attractive, homogenous look while they are in full bloom. In case of later blooming trees, the leaves usually appear before the blossoms, giving the trees a more heterogenous look.
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Spring and fall are wedding seasons in Japan as much as they are favored by tourists.
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What a lovely couple !
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In the early twentieth century (in 1909 and 1912), Japan presented gifts of flowering cherry trees to the United States as symbols of goodwill, and these were planted in Washington, D.C., where they are now one of the most attractive sights of that city. In other countries, including the Republic of Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, as well as countries in Europe and South America, the Japanese cherry blossom season can be enjoyed just as in Japan.
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Crowds of people - families, groups of friends, and groups from companies sit under the fully open cherry blossoms, usually on plastic tarps, and have a picnic celebration. The picnic fare consists of a wide variety of foods, snack foods, and sake (rice wine) or other drinks.
To start off the Hanami, everyone sits in a circle with their drink (usually rice wine). Someone makes a bit of a speech about how beautiful everything is and how nice it is to be together (did we ?). Then everyone raises their glass and says 'kampai.' The Hanami has officially started. Now it time for general celebration. The drinking continues and some food is passed around. Some have events planned sparingly, such as singing or maybe a game. There are very many though, the main objective is to get to know the people you are with and have a good time doing so. (Picture above was taken at Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden).
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Depending on the group you are in, part of the Hanami may be stressed more than others. For example, if you are having a Hanami with a bunch of 18-22 year olds, there is a good chance that the drinking will be stressed more than normal. If you are in a group of older people, you will probably find yourself singing a couple verses of Sakura. So which group were we ?
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In the evening, we (Mena, Qoo and I) went to Heian Shrine and Nanzenji Temple for more Hanami. Beside me is Mena, dorm mate from Hong Kong.


Anonymous said...

wow...only kyoto ppl?i wish i would b there!anyway i had my hanami wif dept. senpais n jpnese frens....from 11am till 8pm...!!!gals r strong man!my face turned red after 2bottle of beers!!!so `zha`!!(@_@) me still waiting to apply internet in my dorm!!!

by chingfu

Patrick Leong said... so char one. we miss you leh.