Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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In Japan, Hanami is the cherry blossom festival that welcomes the glory of spring under cherry trees. With picnic parties under cherry blossoms (sakura, in Japanese), it is a lovely way to celebrate the arrival of warmer days and renewal in nature. The good news is, you don’t have to travel to Japan to celebrate Hanami with your family. Here is an insider guide to this lovely Japanese tradition and how to celebrate spring the Hanami way.
In Japanese, 花 (hana) means “flower,” and 見 (mi), means “to view.” Together, hanami literally means “to view flowers,” “watching flowers” or “watching blossoms.” Coincidentally, it’s also a word used to describe spring picnics. As the cherry blossom season is very short (a couple of weeks or so), Japanese people make it a tradition to wait until full sakura season in their region to organize a spring picnic. It’s such an anticipated event that you can follow a live sakura weather map with the latest cherry blossom updates and plan your party accordingly.
Because Hanami is a celebration of nature, it’s always a spring picnic and a wonderful reason to take the whole family outside. Typically, Hanami picnic parties feature:
Cherry blossom season is a major part of the Japanese year, with televised cherry blossom countdowns and millions of visiting tourists trying to capture the perfect sakura moment. Though it varies from year to year, the best times are centered around the end of March and beginning of April, with early blooms starting in January in Okinawa on a warm year.
Since hanami means “viewing blossoms” in the broad sense, you can plan your own hanami party for the best wild or cultivated tree blossoms of the season. Other beautiful flowering trees include:
In the United States, cherry blossom festivals are held in Washington D.C., Vancouver (B.C.), San Francisco (CA), Philadelphia (PA), New Jersey and St. Louise (MI).
In Europe, cherry blossoms can be admired at Brogdale Collections (Faversham, UK), Kew Gardens (Richmond, UK), Heerstrasse (Bonn, Germany), Hamburg (Germany), Hasselt (Belgium), Copenhagen (Denmark), Amsterdam Wood (Amstelveen, The Netherlands), Roihuvuori (Finland), Jerte Valley (Spain), Szeged (Hungary) and Zagreb (Croatia).
The beauty of hanami parties is that you can have them during the day or at night, which is quite different from a typically “western” picnic under the sun. In japan, parks are illuminated with lanterns at night, which adds to the romantic spirit of a cherry blossom picnic. Now that is the very essence of spring poetry.
The easiest hanami picnic food is a hanami bento box (such as the one above) that you buy at a Japanese grocery store. If you don’t have Japanese stores in your area, here are a few recipes that you can try at home.
Sweet and salty at the same time, sakura mochi is a rice cake filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled leaf of cherry tree. Poetically, it’s a way to “eat” cherry trees as a sweet and sour parcel, getting both the fragrance of the leaf and the satisfaction of pink sweet rice cake. If you have access to a cherry tree (ask your neighbors), here is how to preserve cherry tree leaves. If you don’t have access to a cherry tree, these can be found in Japanese specialty stores.
These lightly pickled cucumbers make a perfect veggie side for a Japanese-themed picnic. Find the recipe here.
You’ll never look at fried chicken the same way after you’ve tasted this home-made karaage Japanese fried chicken recipe. After being marinated in a ginger-soy marinade, bite-size pieces of chicken thighs are deep-fried twice for a juicy and crunchy result. Find the recipe here.
If it’s cold outside, kids will be very happy to sip a hot miso soup during the picnic. You can make miso soup with miso soup powder (available online) or make your own miso soup from scratch. Find the recipe here.
To complete your cherry blossom party, here are a few ideas of non-alcoholic for all ages:
If you’re doing a night hanami party, you may want to consider for the adults:
It’s time to plan your own hanami or cherry blossom party!