What is Hanami? [Definition, Meaning]

You’ve heard of sakura/cherry blossoms. Now, get ready for that next level of fun: hanami. Believe it or not, there is a 100% chance you have seen hanami in some form or another across your anime viewing experience. Sure, cherry blossoms are fun to look at, and when they burst into color after nasty weather, it makes the view all the nicer,but did you know that you could take your enjoyment of cherry blossoms to an even further level that will put you among millions of people across Japan? Get your snacks, drinks, a blanket or tarp, and if you are feeling fancy and heading off the beaten path, maybe even a pillow to nap on.

Hanami comes from the Japanese word 花見 (Hanami) which means “flower viewing”. Modern day hanami comes in the form of an outdoor party. The belief is that this practice started way back in the Nara period (700s) when ume, or plum, blossoms would bloom right before sakura would. Eventually, sakura, or cherry blossoms, became synonymous with the hanami practice even though this is still done for ume blossoms and fuji (wisteria) blossoms as well. Poems were written about them and permeate through haiku and poetry starting in the Heian period. What is it like today? Well, it’s millions of people cramming into parks to hold parties, sleep, relax, and of course, get so drunk that getting home to the station is a task in and of itself.

Public Intoxication Without Getting Arrested!

Hanami has, above all else, become synonymous with drinking in Japan. You go outdoors, buy plum wine, beer, chuhai, or sake, and then sit near or under sakura trees with your friends laughing, talking, eating, and most importantly, consuming copious amounts of alcohol. It’s very common at every party there to see someone–or “someones”–hunched over in a drunken stupor or just flat out blacked out. Japanese society is still very rigid and a lot of the time, it’s events like these that allow people to let their hair down and get into some trouble. In fact, the people you feel the most sorry for are the groups of black suits you will see.

Yes, not only does the public have hanami parties, but companies do as well. These companies will send people out, usually in the very early morning of the day of the party to have them stake out a space with a massive tarp so that everyone can sit somewhat comfortably. If it’s a very popular spot like at Osaka Castle Park, people will be sent out to mark places days in advance with the best spots being far away from the bathrooms and very close to the massive moat surrounding the castle. Oddly enough too, you almost never hear of anyone in Japan taking those spots either. You will see people respect others places and tend to either move around them or put down their own mats further away. The only downside is that most companies that do have mandatory hanami parties will make it fall on a weekend so as to not hinder productivity during the week. If you are ever in Japan though and stumble across one, beware of the drunks!

Azumanga Daioh (Azumanga Daioh: The Animation)

  • Episodes: 26
  • Aired: Apr 2002 - Oct 2002

Azumanga Daioh is about a collection of characters that are all in the same calls. Chiyo is a genius and only 10 years old in her class, Yukari is her teacher, and is a bit of a mess. Tomo is a tomboy who acts before she thinks, Koyomi, who is a hair’s width away from snapping, Sakaki, a girl obsessed with cats who always gets bit by them, and more! These girls have the most strange and bizarre adventures each day while going about their anything but mundane, high school lives. Ah, high school, how most of us don’t miss thee~

Azumanga Daioh actually has a scene which is either translated improperly or really easy to miss. Early on in the series, it ends up being spring and the two teachers, Yukari and Minamo end up in a park. It’s not like these two need a reason to be indecent in public, but why not under the cherry blossoms? Yes, these two are actually drinking in the evening under trees in the park. Another small part of hanami is doing it at night as well and a lot of people enjoy it. Especially considering that hanami is a lot less packed during evenings and at night. Just bring a jacket so you don’t freeze as it can still get close to freezing!

Why Not Just Look at Pretty Flowers & Appreciate Nature?

The other really large aspect of hanami, besides getting lit in broad daylight in public, is enjoying the unending fields of blossoms that are only around for a few days to a week or two max. Yes, hanami season is incredibly transient due to the weather being less than favorable for it. Sakura (cherry blossom) trees in Japan need the rain that comes at the end of Winter and beginning of Spring to trigger the bloom. The problem is, with the warm winters that Japan has been having, sometimes the bloom, as it is tracked by the National Meteorological Agency, gets moved up. It should come at the end of March, but as of recent, it has been coming earlier around the 20th. That combined with the weather of Winter ending and Spring coming means that there are times where there may only be a few days to actually get out and enjoy the sakura. Not to mention too, the rain at the end of the sakura season knocks off all of the petals making roads and rivers beautiful while making trees go back to the grey-green lumps that they are for another year.

When people are out, you will hear the buzzing of chatter, clinking of drinks, and more as everyone looks up and enjoy the petals falling. And boy, do they fall. Winds will really whip up the petals making them fall everywhere and rumor has it, that if a sakura petal falls into your drink, it’s good luck! For once though, people—after they take the first initial 30 photos—actually put down their phones and look up and the beautiful skies while toasting to their lives, health, and others. For one brief moment, the concrete jungle that is Tokyo and Japan overall, takes a collective sigh of relief. Where can you catch some awesome sakura scenes though?

Byousoku 5 Centimeter (5 Centimeters Per Second)

  • Episodes: 3
  • Aired: March 2007

Way back before Makoto Shinkai had his DVDs in every store and many homes across Japan, he was a nobody who released a film titles Byousoku 5 Centimeter. Two lovebirds are torn apart after Akari’s family has to move due to work. Sad that she is leaving Takaki, Akari decides to stay in contact with him via letter. However, it is not soon after that Takaki also will be moving too. They decide to meet one final time. Sadly though, their letters cannot keep the flames of passion alive. Their memories do not fade though and while they think about each other fondly, they also wonder if they will be blessed with reunion one day.

This is the series with that famous scene that everyone has seen at least once even if you have not watched this movie specifically. You know the one where the town is covered in sakura and you cannot look away because the sheer beauty of the moment is captivating. Ironically, sakura reflect the theme of this movie which is fleeting transience. Much like how the relationship between Takaki and Akari is. Even though it seems the world to them, when they grow up, their relationship and memories fade. Sakura are the same. Everything is so intensely beautiful when everything is in full bloom, but as soon as they fall, they are forgotten.

Byousoku 5 Centimeter Trailer:

Final Thoughts

Where else can you see anime characters enjoying Hanami? Well, Toradora has an episode that includes it as does everyone’s favorite cute child anime, Amaama to Inazuma (Sweetness & Lightning). Hanami makes an appearance in Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya). As for other food dishes that can be enjoyed during hanami, naturally, meat is a staple. Grilled meat and chicken in every form imaginable is something that will be present at every single hanami party. There is a special kind of mochi known as–surprise–sakura mochi that is both sweet and salty as well as other tasty, seasonal treats.

The largest and most important part of hanami though is the sakura, so if you ever have a chance to experience it, be sure that you don’t miss it. Just come ready for crowds, packed trains, lots of food and drinks, and unforgettable views of pink contrasted against a bright blue sky. What hanami scenes can you recall from other anime? Be sure to let us know if you have any that come to mind and if you have ever experienced hanami. Till next time!

byousoku-5-centimeter-wallpaper-700x394 What is Hanami? [Definition, Meaning]


Author: Nagareboshi

American by birth; international by choice. I am trying to bring attention to one of my favorite causes; me. I translate by day and write by night. Aspiring polyglot. My dream would be to be the personal translator for Amuro Namie. Other than that, my hobbies include languages, weightlifting, sleeping, karaoke, GOOD coffee and music. When I’m not doing any of the above, I am most likely laughing hysterically at Willam Belli videos or EV farming. I ain’t gunna Rupologize for it neither. Waifu are Shirai Kuroko & Euaerin.

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