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Hanami History and Culture

Hanami, which is often done casually every year by people in Japan, is actually an event with a long history in Japanese culture that has continued since ancient times. Here is some knowledge about the origin, history, and staple foods of hanami, as well as some hanami spots that you should visit if you get to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season.


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History of Hanami

Do you know when hanami first started? We will explain its origin and history.


Originated in the Nara period (710-794)

It is said that the event of hanami in Japan originated in the Nara period, and it is widely believed that it was introduced to Japan from China. However, at that time, people did not view cherry blossoms as we do today, but rather plum blossoms. Plum trees were one of the things that came to Japan as trade with China flourished, and it is said that it was standard practice among aristocrats to plant plum trees in their gardens.


The Man'yoshu (The Anthology of Myriad Leaves) contains many poems about plum blossoms, more than twice as many as those about cherry blossoms, indicating their popularity at that time. Later, as Japan's unique culture became more important, the appreciation of blossoms shifted from plum blossoms to cherry blossoms.


From aristocrats to samurai to commoners

Hanami, which had been an event for the nobility, spread to the samurai in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). One of the most grand hanami events in history was held by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Two of the most memorable hanami events were the Yoshino no hanami to which a total of 5,000 famous military commanders such as Ieyasu Tokugawa were invited, and the Daigo no hanami held at Daigo Temple where 700 cherry trees were planted.


It was not until the Edo period (1603-1868) that the general public began to enjoy hanami. Iemitsu Tokugawa and Yoshimune Tokugawa are considered to have been the leading figures to spread it to the general public. Iemitsu planted many cherry trees in Ueno and Yoshimune planted a lot of cherry trees along the Sumida River and Asukayama, making them famous spots and encouraging lively banquet-style hanami. In this way, hanami became a popular springtime pastime that could be enjoyed casually in familiar places.


Praying for a good harvest at hanami

Hanami has a different origin from the elegant one we have introduced. It was an event held by farmers to pray for a good harvest and to welcome the god of rice paddies who comes down from the mountains to the villages in the spring.


Since ancient times, it was believed that the god of rice paddies dwelled in the cherry trees. As the blooming of cherry blossoms is a sign of the arrival of the god of rice paddies, people celebrated the arrival of the god of rice paddies under the cherry blossoms and entertained them. The blooming of the cherry blossoms was also used to predict the year's harvest and to prepare for the farming season.


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What to eat for Hanami

Eating and drinking while viewing cherry blossoms is an essential part of hanami. Here are some of the standard foods and their history.


Sanshoku Dango

As the saying goes, Hana Yori Dango, which means sweet rice cakes are better than flowers, and hanami is all about hanami dango. In particular, sanshoku dango, which consists of one cherry blossom colored, one white, and one green dango on a skewer, is the standard. There are various theories as to why these three colors are used, but the most popular is that the white of the snow represents the remnants of winter, the cherry blossom color represents the joy of spring, and the green of the yomogi mugwort represents the signs of summer.


Sakura Mochi

It is a Japanese confectionery consisting of a rice cake filled with red bean paste and wrapped in salted cherry leaves. It is said to have been invented by the gatekeeper of Chomeiji Temple along the Sumida River, who was troubled by the falling leaves of the cherry trees. In the Kanto region, sakura mochi with bean paste wrapped in wheat flour dough is a remnant of those days, while in the Kansai region, the most common type is a bun-shaped sakura mochi with bean paste wrapped in Domyoji flour dough.


Hanami Bento

Hanami bento is the lunch box eaten during hanami. Hanami bento was even enjoyed back in the Edo period (1603-1867), and a tool called a sageju was used. Sageju is a stacked box that incorporates not only food but also tableware and sake cups, and can be carried in the hand.

The contents of the stacked boxes varied, but according to an Edo period document called Ryori Hayashinan, it is recorded that a luxurious bento contained kamaboko fishcake, Japanese style egg omelettes, grilled rice balls, sashimi, kinton, and other items.

Sageju


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Three Greatest Cherry Blossoms of Japan

The Three Greatest Cherry Blossoms of Japan are designated as national natural monuments. Each of them is a must-see. Here are the charms of each.


Miharu Takizakura in Fukushima Prefecture

The Miharu Takizakura is a cherry tree estimated to be over 1,000 years old. It is characterized by its overwhelming size and impact, with a root circumference of approximately 36'/11 meters and a height of approximately 42.6'/13 meters.


The blossoms blooming from branches extending in various directions are as beautiful as a flowing waterfall, hence it was named Takizakura, which means waterfall cherry tree. Surrounded by fields of rape blossoms, the contrast between the cherry color and yellow is also magnificent.


Yamataka Jindaizakura in Yamanashi Prefecture

The Yamataka Jindaizakura is estimated to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old, making it the oldest cherry tree in Japan. It is also known as a huge tree, with a root circumference of 36'/11 meters and a height of 32.8'/10 meters.

Legend has it that Yamatotakeru no Mikoto planted the tree when he stopped by this area, giving it a divine appearance that transcends the passage of time. The contrast between the Akaishi Mountains in the background and the 80,000 wild daffodils that bloom at the same time as the cherry blossoms are also striking.


Neodani Usuzumizakura in Gifu Prefecture

The buds of the Usuzumizakura cherry tree are pink, but white flowers bloom at the peak, and after the peak, the flowers turn black, hence it was named like that. Usuzumi means light black in Japanese.


Although it once faced the danger of dying due to weather and white ant damage, it has been protected by many hands and is estimated to be 1,500 years old. With a root girth of about 29.5'/9 meters and a height of about 55.7'/17 meters, it is an overwhelmingly beautiful tree.


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There is a lot of food items, housewares, stationery, and gifts available at the store and our online store, Maido! Kairashi Shop, where you can place your order for shipping or store pickup! Happy shopping. :)

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