How to do Hanami step by step
Cherry blossoms is a big thing in Japan. When the cherry trees blossom, Japanese people do Hanami.
That means that they are viewing (mi) flowers (hana).
You would like to know HOW TO DO Hanami?
Let’s learn from the locals!
Lots of hana to mi!
10 steps to become a Hanami master:
1. READ THE NEWS and follow TV which show maps on how far north in the country cherry tree blossoming has progressed. Weather forecasts will report on when to expect full bloom. Okinawa for example gets Hanami as early as February.
We had Hanami in Tokyo very early as well, which started mid March and the petals were already falling the very first days of April 2013. You might start to feel anxious about trees and worry about blossom in Japan.
This is a metro info-poster at Tokyo’s Kyodo Station with remaining Hanami spots and matching train stops – if you are very late, you can still hope to see the flowers bloom at the designated places on the Odakyu Line. The ones crossed out (blue Kanji stickers) have already faded away.
Everyone is looking forward to Hanami. Even Domo the Japanese mascot.
2. FIND the perfect HANAMI SPOT. I have written up the most popular cherry blossom spots in Tokyo and added a decent amount of pictures for you.
It is popular to reserve a place at the most crowded places in the morning by placing a blue Hanami mat to mark your spot, sometimes one pitiful person will be holding the spot for the rest.
Right under the tree is perfect.
3. JOIN IN and SOCIALIZE. Hanami is a group thing. Call friends and hook up for a neat Hanami get together.
If you are on your own, don’t worry. Just go out to meet the crowds. Strolling along the cherry trees and observing the celebrations is equally fascinating. I would recommend Ueno park which provides more attractions and food stalls for Hanami passers by and passionate viewers. Hanami weekends are most crowded – it is easy to meet new people as the atmosphere is very relaxed.
Hanami is a time of no borders and a great opportunity to share and socialize. We had Hanami dinner with our Japanese friend Saori and met a sweet couple – Mila is a teacher who might become the second Serbian national to be granted Japanese citizenship, married to her Japanese husband.
For more formal festivals during Hanami, you can attend opera-organized music performances.
4. Get your HANAMI EQUIPMENT together. For the traditional Hanami picnic. A typically blue waterproof mat serves as a plastic blanket. A carton to make for a small table is also a good idea. A grill, if you are planning a barbecue.
You can get all Hanami stuff for a good price at the Donki (Don Quijote discount chain) – a store all around Tokyo selling overwhelmingly many gadgets.
Bring a sweater (or drink a lot of sake) as spring days can get chilly at dusk. This is also the time when people either pack up or start partying. To get the most of Hanami I would say it’s best to come before sun set.
5. Buy HANAMI FOOD. The most popular and convenient are ready made Hanami bentos.
For drinks the choice is clear: sake, sake, sake… until you drop.
Or… sweet peach drinks not to be missed due to their overall Hanami make up.
My tip. The conbini (Japanese convenience store) provides for cheap and good treats. These stores stock up on food combos. You can buy special Hanami deserts and sweets at the Japanese conbini during that special time of the year.
My favourite conbini store Lawson gave out brochures with gorgeous and delicious Hanami sweets.
The best is the Hanami daifuku (glutinous rice cake filled with bean paste, cream and strawberry). Tomek and I bought all daifuku from Watson’s a few weeks ago (and treated ourselves right away, not even under a proper cherry tree. Gaijin. Ugh.)
Daifuku power, eh powder.
If you see pink products packed in pink wrapping you will know that this is a proper Hanami treat.
All the big chains are doing Hanami. You can get Hanami themed Starbucks products.
For the sophisticated tongue, manicured Hanami confection and bentos await at the fantastic basement food floor of Tokyo’s luxurious department store Isetan at Shinjuku.
Food vendors at Ueno Park serve hot Hanami fare. The sign reads Sakura flavour. The sticky sticks were a bit glibbery and jelly like. And very sweet. The smell is reminiscent of Sakura scent from the blooming trees.
Food vendors will make sure you return with a full belly.
Do not eat these. This is a game where you can catch your own fish.
The flavour of Sakura on a stick demonstrated by Alice.
Hanami is a great time to meet new people. We also befriended Alice, a French illustrator infatuated with Japanese anime which inspires her work (www.rosalys.net).
Our Hanami dinner with Saori, Mila and Yoshi was more on the fancy side. If you go out to a restaurant make sure you have made a reservation in advance.
Hanami is a time of joy. We sure did feel very relaxed and “unwinded in cozy private space and Japanese modern floor“. The chopstick wrapping had interesting English.
Our Hanami starter.
And another one.
Raw tuna. There were a lot more dishes but we ate them all…
6. Try YOZAKURA. Japanese people also celebrate yozakura which is Hanami at night.
In many places such as Ueno Park temporary paper lanterns are hung to celebrate yozakura.
7. TAKE OFF SHOES when sitting on the Hanami mat or if entering a traditional Japanese restaurant. The same customs apply when walking into a Japanese home.
8. TAKE IN THE BEAUTY of Sakura flowers, sit back and relax!
Watch the colours of the fragile flowers change as it gets late.
Taking a lot of pictures (not only) of flowers is also a custom.
9. CLEAN UP after your Hanami. Usually, there will be specially provided trash containers – you should recycle your trash the Japanese way. Very impressive how clean the spots are with all those people having Hanami picnics.
If there are no bins, wrap it all up into plastic bags and pile up neatly like this. It is amazing how clean everything is despite millions of Japanese party people doing Hanami.
10. Know Hanami HISTORY. The tradition of hanami is many centuries old – just as some trees.
Hanami celebrations started during the Nara period (710–794) with the admiration of ume (plum) blossoms, still practised by older people today – with much calmer admiration.
Even the manholes do Hanami in Tokyo.
I hope you had a great Hanami and for all western readers: I wish you a Happy Easter with a lot of cute bunnies bringing you eggs and spring sunshine!