HOW TO: Find a good hanami spot (cherry blossom viewing)

The past two weeks seem like a horrific blur, and passed quickly as if only a few days had gone by. Though I know I need to go back to regular posts on this blog, I haven’t felt it appropriate at all - and I’m sure many of you may feel the same about your daily routines. It’s sometimes difficult to go straight back to “real life” when around us real life has essentially been altered. For most of us, not our own personal lives, but still the lives of those we are connected to in some way. I suppose everyone feels differently about this, but I know I also felt like this when I lived in the US for Katrina and 9/11 (and just as awful for other events around the world).

My hope is that all of you reading this are safe, including your loved ones. I know this may very well not be the case, and for all those who have experienced trauma and loss, my heart goes out to you and my thoughts are with you.

I still feel as though I want to do more to help the current situation, and I know many of you feel the same, so I will continue to gather information and resources regarding giving and volunteering, as the relief efforts will likely last for quite some time. Right now, there's a list at Earthquake in Japan: resources, links & how you can help. There are also numerous other websites and blogs with ideas and resources regarding this that I've been sharing on Twitter every day the past two weeks.

With everything that has happened, I nearly forgot all about the blooming cherry blossoms, or sakura (桜, さくら). The blooming forecast for central Japan is about this time (end of March) to last sometime through April. I’ve seen trees budding and slowly blossoming here and there, and in many ways seeing the tiny pink flowers is reassuring. Cherry blossoms symbolize various things in Japan, but the season represents the start of a new year, not the same as New Year’s of course, but the fiscal and school year in Japan both begin in April.

My hope is that the sakura this year will encourage Japan as a whole as everyone deals with the grief and aftermath of the disasters. So with the blossoms, and the start of Spring, those of us in Japan can look forward to a new season, and new year, with hope and vigor, although I feel this year お花見 (おはなみ, o-hanami - "o" the honorific prefix) may be bittersweet.

Though, I would like to announce some good news, as insignificant as it might seem amongst all the bad news around us (though I hope maybe a bit of a relief) - I'm pregnant! (Due in August). I'll write more about that later and in the coming months, but for now, on to hanami.


how to find a good hanami spot 

Hanami, or flower viewing, is the annual ritual of picnicking underneath the sakura trees (started many, many years ago - google that for more info). Considering the lovely blossoms are showing their faces around Japan now (along with the plum blossoms, which have already been blooming), I thought it might be helpful to share how you might find some nice places to go for hanami. Granted, you also may have some wonderful spots a hop, skip and a jump away from your home - definitely worth exploring to see what you can find.

However, there are other ways to find some great hanami spots, especially if you just aren't sure where to go, and not just the popular ones you’ll find online reviews of in Tokyo, Kyoto, etc.

Words to know:

桜                さくら             sakura           cherry blossoms
花見             はなみ             hanami          cherry blossom viewing
開花予想      かいかよそう  kaikayosou    blooming prediction/forecast
つぼみ                                 tsubomi         bud
咲き始め      さきはじめ      sakihajime     beginning to bloom
5分咲き       ごぶざき          gobuzaki       50% bloom
7分咲き       しちぶざき      shichibuzaki   70% bloom
満開            まんかい          mankai           full bloom
散り始め     ちりはじめ       chirihajime     beginning to fall
葉桜            はざくら          hazakura        leaves

Two good sites to check out, in Japanese, are Yahoo and Mapple. I’m going to do a run-through of the Yahoo site as an example.

1. First, go to the main page, and choose a prefecture - in this case, I chose Shizuoka.

2.  Next, a list of spots around Shizuoka prefecture come up (scroll down a bit). You can choose one of those spots, or, click on the purple button that says "お花見マップ" to view an interactive map of spots.

This is the interactive map. You can choose spots by the blooming forecast as well, such as if in full bloom, part bloom, etc.

3. Once you've clicked on a spot, information about that place will show up, including access, whether there is parking, if there are stores around, if there are bathrooms, etc.

This information pertains specifically to the spot chosen above - the details in the right column will vary by spot.

As I mentioned earlier, Mapple is another good site, and also has rankings (that anyone can do). And Yahoo developed a free hanami spot finder app, called お花見ナビ (ohanami navi - short for "navigation"). It's all in Japanese, but really isn't too difficult to use, as the text is similar to what I've explained above. To download it, you need to make an account with the Japan iTunes store (you can choose "no credit card").

I hope you're able to hop outside and enjoy the cherry blossoms for the short time they're here...

Oh, and before you all comment, yes, your local city likely has info and/or pamphlets about hanami-viewing spots and festivals - I just wanted to do a post on how to quickly look up places at home (or on the go).

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