Lesson Plan for Social and Cultural Anthropology:
- Hike up through the 100 vermillion gates to Peace Pagoda in Hiroshima
- View the cherry blossoms
- Appreciate the impermanence of all things
- Understand and discuss Hanami
What is Hanami?
Spring has sprung in Hiroshima and the sakuras, or cherry blossoms, are out in full force. The beautiful white and red blossoms blanket the city, and many others in Japan, for a short period of time. The cherry and plum blossoms, that line the walkways and rivers of Hiroshima, obscure the sky in certain parts. Hanami, the act of viewing the blossoms, is a wonderful opportunity to admire natures beauty and contemplate its impermanence. People get together throughout Japan during this time to have Hanami parties, where they sit under the blossoms with friends and celebrate this beautiful, albeit short, time of year. The blossoms usually fall off the trees in a week or two from the first blossom. Kylie Clark of the London office of the Japan National Tourism Organization wrote “The delicate and brief nature of the cherry blossoms are not only a reason for a good party; they are also seen to symbolize the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese culture that is often associated with Buddhism.” In Bhutan, another incredible Buddhist country that I visited, the guides and I spoke regularly about the concept of impermanence. The samurai, Japan’s iconic warrior, led their lives according to Bushido, The Way of the Warrior, which prescribes living a life that could end at any moment. Impermanence is crucial to living the warrior way and is still at the core of traditions like Hanami in modern Japan.
A Brief History:
Viewing the blossoms is not new to Japan, and as early as the Nara Period (710-793) people would admire the Plum blossoms brought over from China. In the early Heian Period (794 -1185) the switch to Cherry blossoms occurred, which people surmise was an attempt to have original culture distinct from Chinese influence. Later during the Edo Period (1603-1868) cherry trees were planted throughout Edo, now Tokyo, and people started joining at the sign of first blossom to admire their beauty. Hanami parties even back in the Edo period consisted of bento lunches and sake, which are still used to today. Clark also explains, “the temporary nature of the sakura [cherry blossom] is a reminder that all living things soon pass and we should make the most of our lives while we can.” In contemporary Japan this time period is celebrated across generations. For students it coincides with the end of the school year, and for older Japanese the blossoms represent new beginnings.
How to Hanami:
Hanami viewing parties are taking place all over Japan during this time period. Websites carefully track and plot the dates of the blossoms, where to catch the best views, and which supermarkets have the best bento lunches for hanami picnics. Sake brewers give discounts for local brews, and even McDonald’s sells a Cherry Blossom burger with pink buns. So how exactly does one have a Hanami party?
Here are some tips for having a successful Hanami party.
Pick a great spot to view the blossoms, and get their early.
- Bring a picnic blanket or some folding chairs.
- Bring a jacket or sweatshirt as it gets cold when the sun goes down!
- Bring a garbage bag to clean up after yourselves.
- Find a good bento box at a local supermarket.
- Don’t forget the wine opener!
- Make sure you know where the closest toilet is before setting up shop!
During the Hanami party, if you really want to impress your friends, recite this tanka (short poem) by 12th century poet Saigo.