Every April, the whole of Japan celebrates the arrival of the cherry blossom, a flush of pale pink colour that brightens town parks and mountainsides alike. The cherry tree, or sakura, can flower anytime between March and early April, according to weather conditions. For 2020, the blossom is predicted to open early after a warmer winter.
“In Tokyo, they are predicted to open on March 15 (eleven days earlier than average) and in Kyoto on March 20 (eight days earlier than average).”
The blossom is usually at its peak approx seven days after the first blooms burst, and will only last for two weeks in ideal conditions.
Given the current uncertainty about international travel due to COVID-19, many tourists and Japanese who live in the UK may decide not to travel to Japan to view and appreciate the blossoms, a tradition known as ‘hanami’ (花見 or ‘flower viewing’).
In Japan, families would normally gather under the flowering trees, thrown down a blanket, and enjoy a spring-themed picnic with family and friends. At night, this viewing is called ‘yozakura’, when the trees are lit up with lanterns in the branches so the blossom seems to glow from within.
So, if you have lots of flowering cherries in your park, estate, arboretum or public park, why not organise your own ‘hanami’ and invite along any Japanese colleagues or frustrated travellers to join in the fun! As a venue owner, you can organise an event and provide traditional Japanese music and entertainment too – we can help with that part, needless to say!
How to hold your own hanami
Here are our top tips for a UK hanami:
1. Pick your location
In Japan, popular spots for viewing cherry blossom include castles, temples, riverside promenades, mountainsides and parks. There are plenty of locations in the UK where you can enjoy flowering cherries (sometimes called ornamental cherries), including National Trust properties, stately homes, central city parks, orchards and arboretums. Just make sure you have permission to sit on the grass near the trees – not every venue might allow visitors access across their potentially wet lawns in April.
2. Know your etiquette
Look for a location where you are permitted to sit close to the trees, but not actually on the roots. Never pick the flowers or (worse) snap off branches. Be respectful of others who may wish to view the blossom, so do’t block their view. Always tidy up after your hanami and take any litter home. In Japan, it is perfectly OK to send someone ahead of the main party to reserve a spot and be there until the rest of the party arrive.
3. Eat, drink and admire
No hanami party is complete without a selection of bento boxes packed with tasty treats, and a cooler of beer and sake. As the day turns into evening, music is often to b heard drifting through the trees, and as the moon rises, the level in the sake bottles drop!
A spring-themed bento box often contains ankake meatballs, inari sushi, strawberries, and red bean mochi. In keeping with the general pink theme, the Japanese might also bring a special edition pink sakura Pepsi drink, clear beer and even pink Kit Kats! In the UK, you might opt for a blush wine, pink gin or cherry flavoured drink instead, and there are plenty of pink coloured sweets to choose from too. Raise a toast with a cry of “kampai!” – cheers!
4. Practical considerations
Use a blanket with a waterproof backing to keep the damp at bay, and layer up as night viewings can be chilly. Bring a torch for DIY illuminations at night, and also to find your way back to the car! Remember, not every place with blooming trees may anticipate a cherry blossom party to suddenly spring up on their lawn, so if you can, check in advance so the owners or custodians at least know you are coming.
5. Book traditional Japanese entertainment
This is the easy part! Call us here at Matters Musical to book one of our authentic Japanese acts for your hanami picnic, evening viewing or Japanese restaurant event.
Japanesque play a wide range of classical and traditional Japanese music.
Kotono Sato is a Japanese-born violinist with vast experience who performs traditional, classical and pop hits.
Joji Hirota is a talented Taiko drummer, and also performs Japanese folk songs on shakuhachi flute and voice.
Mugenkyo are Europe’s first professional taiko group, who studied under top taiko masters in Japan.
Where to see cherry blossom in the UK
You’d be surprised just how many flowering cherry trees there are in the UK, from suburban streets to city parks, as well as classical landscapes and historic gardens. The Telegraph lists the following amongst the best places to view cherry blossom this spring:
- The Stray, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
- Upton House, Warwickshire
- RHS Wisley, Surrey
- Sizergh Castle, Cumbria
- Nymans, West Sussex
- Hinton Ampner, Hampshire
- Tatton Park, Knutsford
- The Meadows, Edinburgh
- Bute Park, Cardiff
Top cherry blossom spots in London
Londoners are particularly spoilt for choice, including the cherry walk at Kew Gardens, groves in Kensington Garden and Regent’s Park, plus early flowering trees at Alexandra Palace framed by amazing views over the London skyline. The cherry trees outside the V&A Museum usually put on a great display too. For more details, see the Sequins and Cherry Blossom blog.
Given the ever-shifting travel scenario, why not relax and enjoy the delights of cherry blossom here is the UK, with authentic Japanese music courtesy of Matters Musical? Call us for details.