Unlike in Europe, cherries, whose flowers we adore in Japan (sakura), are bred for its blossom and not for its fruit, as they do not carry a fruit worth eating. However, their beautiful flowers in full bloom inspired Hanami, the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming sakura. Although at first reserved for the Imperial Court, the custom eventually spread to the common people as well. Today, people continue to enjoy the cherry season by eating lunch and drinking sake under these beautiful cherries in blossom.
The blossoming season starts in February in the south (Okinawa) and ends in May in the north (Hokkaido). In Tokyo it is usually at the end of March- we were very lucky as that year sakura bloomed two weeks later, so we caught this amazing event in April. The full bloom is only three days along- the transience of the blossom has therefore been associated with our own mortality. For this reason cherry blossoms are richly symbolic, and have been utilised in Japanese art and even for war propaganda purposes.
In Tokyo the Hanami festival occurs in several parks, most famous one being Ueno Park. We enjoyed strolling in the park, buying street food, especially the grilled meat, and lots and lots of sake (we recommend warm sake). It was difficult to find a spot to sit under the sakura tree, there were so many people already there. We saw really a lot of very young men dressed in business suits sitting under these trees, and later found out that many companies will send their junior employees to reserve good spots for an after-work party. As the evening progressed, we noticed more men than women at these corporate events, and plenty of consumed sake all around.
It is impossible not to stop and take thousands of photos of these magnificent flowers, but they still cannot truly depict the beauty of the cherry festival.