Sakura Zensen and Hanami

In Japan, one of the most anticipated events in the spring is the coming of the sakura or cherry blossoms.  The cherry blossom is a very important cultural symbol of Japan and the blossoming time is akin to a national holiday.  So much so that there are countless festivals and parties to celebrate its arrival.  These parties are called Hanami, or sakura viewing parties and they may be as simple as a few people and a blanket under the tree to gatherings of thousands in parks across Japan.

The coming of the cherry blossoms is such a big deal in Japan that there are forecasts on the news and on the web for the sakura zensen or ‘cherry blossom front’.  Basically the blossoms start in the southernmost part of Japan in the early spring and move north throughout the country until reaching the northernmost island of Hokkaido in early May.  The sakura zensen is tracked with the same precision and importance that would be given to the approach of an oncoming typhoon.

There are many great resources on the web for tracking, viewing, and reading about the sakura, hanami, and sakura zensen.  Here are a few good ones to get you started:

Hot off the Press! The 2011 forecast from Japan-guide.com

National Geographic’s Cherry Blossom Photos

Absolute Japan – Photographs of Sakura

Ueno Park -  Hanami!

Japan Meteorological Society – Tracks the Sakura Zensen

Wikipedia’s Hanami Page

About.com – Hanami in Japan

There is a very entertaining travelogue written by Will Ferguson called Hitching Rides With Buddha that tells the story of Ferguson (a Canadian) hitchhiking the entire length of Japan from southern tip to northern tip following the cherry blossom front.  It is an absolutely great read!  Check it out here: