It’s everyone’s favorite time of year-cherry blossom season. The opening of the cherry blossoms is the first sign of spring, and everyone is anxious to get outside and party under the cherry trees. “O-hanami,” or cherry blossom viewing, starts in Okinawa, the warmest part of Japan, in February and steadily continues sweeping northward as the weather warms up, hitting Hokkaido in May. Cherry blossom inspectors announce the official start of the viewing season in each area.
Be sure to grab some sake and enjoy sitting under the cherry trees while hundreds of white and pink petals fall like confetti all around you. All you need is yourself, a few friends, sake, snacks, and a ground cloth to sit on.
While there are many famous Ohanami spots in Japan, such as Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, where you can view the blossoms with hoards of other people who are drunk and singing bad karaoke, you can still find some places off the beaten track where you can have your own private cherry blossom viewing.
How do you find these places? Here are a few tips.
1. Stay away from public parks and gardens as this is where most people go for cherry blossom viewing. Cherry blossom parties tend to be made up of large groups of people who choose one day for everyone to go and have a frolicking time under the trees. 2. Any number of companies, clubs, schools or sports teams can have a Ohanami party in a public park or garden simultaneously.
2. Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines almost always have a few cherry blossom trees strategically placed on their grounds. Especially at the smaller local temples and shrines, you can have your own private cherry blossom party.
3. Try an island off the coast of Japan or in the Seto Inland Sea. Few Japanese people venture to such remote places, so you will experience a peace not found on the mainland.
4. Find wild cherry trees. The ornate cherry trees found in clusters in most tourist places have been planted with the specific purpose of having trees to blossom in that spot in springtime. “Yamazakura,” wild cherry trees that grow mostly in the mountains, do not attract as much attention as they are out-of-the way.
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com