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  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

The history of Japan’s cherry blossom festivals

(Japanese translation below)

Japan has the culture of Hanami. Its cherry blossom viewing history is very old. Cherry blossoms were written about for the first time in Japanese history in one of Japan’s oldest history books titled Kojiki. At that time it was thought that there was a god of cherry blossoms in Japan. The god was a guardian deity who was beautiful but who died young, just like a cherry blossoms.

The expression of cherry blossom viewing was clearly founded in the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry called Manyoushu books from the Nara period. During the Nara period (710 to 794) it was thought that the god of the rice crop descended from the mountain when cherry blossoms bloomed. The time of cherry blossoms was said to be the time for rice planting. At that time, the Emperor held a cherry blossom viewing event every year. Hanami was very popular among aristocrats.

Hanami became more common after the Kamakura period (1185-1333). In the past, Hanami was enjoyed only by the aristocracy, but it gradually spread to Samurai and then to the general population. However, there is evidence that the nobility enjoyed Hanami like an elegant party, but the common people enjoyed it like a crazy party under the cherry blossoms.

The custom of hanami spread during the Aduchi-Momoyama period (1573 to 1600). A Hanami festival sponsored by Hideyoshi Toyotomi was held in Yoshino, Nara. The festival was enjoyed by about 5,000 people over five days. At that time they also ate steamed dumplings called hanami-dango. It can be clearly seen that Japan has had a culture rooted in cherry blossoms since ancient times.

The reason that Japanese people love the culture of cherry blossoms so much is because it’s related to the spirituality of the Japanese people. Cherry blossoms are inconspicuous when you see only one flower, but when there are many together the cherry blossoms show their presence. This is just like Japan's national character itself where harmony is respected over individualism. Additionally, the Japanese feel the beauty in the momentary existence that is a cherry blossoms’ life.

From ancient to modern times, cherry blossoms have been loved because cherry blossoms are very similar to Japan's national character.


森岡 潮音







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