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    Every year, the coming of Spring in Japan heralds the return of cherry blossoms that for six or eight weeks spread like a scented blanket of white and pink velvet from the Southern tip of Okinawa to the Northern points of Hokkaido. The slow movement of the cherry blossoms opening from South to North is watched vigorously every year by the Japanese populace. Japanese television news broadcasts note that "the flowers are early in Okinawa this year." or "the late rain in Kyoto took its toll on the flowers there this year."
    Newspapers run front page stories covering the major cherry blossom festivals. This is the season of hana-mi, literally, "flower-watching". This is the time when the normally benign sakura (cherry) trees become the peacocks of the botanical world, spreading their colors and scents across the Japanese cities and countryside.

    Hana-mi is a relaxation sport to the Japanese, who, when the moment presents itself, rush to their favorite sakura groves to throw open their picnics beneath the shady, sweet-smelling mantle. There is no time to waste because the ephemeral blossoms emerge during only 10 to 15 days, affording the busy Japanese family just one or two weekends for an excursion. Blink, and the flowers are gone.

    As the samurai leader, Katsumoto, lay dying in the last climactic moments of the film The Last Samurai, he was mesmerized by the beauty of the falling petals and the revelation struck him like a thunderbolt that the cherry blossoms are "Perfect.they are all.perfect." And there are so many of them. They fall like snow around the unusually chatty Japanese as they dine on sushi, rice cakes and plenty of sake. Concession stands emerge at the edges of sakura-filled parks or along sakura-lined streets, selling every form of food and trinket imaginable, from traditional fair foods such as tako-yaki (octopus fried in dough) and yaki-soba (sautéed soba noodles) to authentic and less-than-authentic Japanese arts and crafts.

    The history of hana-mi in Japan is quite old as the literature of the Heian Period (794 A.D. - 1192 A.D.) in Japan shows that the aristocracy of Kyoto was already actively engaged in the leisurely activity at the time. One of the most famous early references to hana-mi comes from the Spring of 1598, when the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi carried out a massive hana-mi festival to celebrate having brought all of Japan under his control. He led a parade of almost 1500 people to Daigo Temple in Kyoto where there commenced a great party with people composing poems and holding performances of noh theater-all with the cherry blossoms as the backdrop.

    The beginning of April is a great time to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom in Tokyo, with two particularly well-treed spots being Shinjukugyoen and the massive Ueno Park where a festival is held around the first of April. Small fees are charged, but the events are well worth the time.

    The cherry blossom symbol is a hugely popular element in Japanese culture, and has seeped into poetry (Haiku), kimono design, food design (e.g. sakura tea), and plays a role in the Japanese film culture. There are a number of famous sakura trees in Japan, including the 1500 year old Uzumi-zakura in Gifu Prefecture which is reputed to have been planted by the emperor of the time; and the Jindai-zakura, which is said to be 2000 years old-Japan's oldest sakura!

    Spring visitors to Japan should be advised not to blink while there, as you might just miss the chance for a hana-mi excursion. It is an experience truly worth having.

    Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival
    Motobu, Okinawa . The year's first cherry blossom festival.

    Kumamoto Castle Cherry Blossom Festival
    Kumamoto Ciy, Kumamoto . Over 600 cherry trees in bloom.

    Tateyama Park Cherry Blossom Festival
    Nagasaki City, Nagasaki . Over 700 cherry trees in bloom.

    Okajo Koen Cherry Blossom Festival
    Takeda City, Saga ... Over 2500 cherry trees in bloom. Truly a cherry blossom viewing hotspot!

    Kochi Koen Cherry Blossom Festival
    Kochi City, Kochi ... Over 300 cherry trees in bloom.

    Estimated Dates of Cherry Tree Blossoming by Japanese Region
    Matsuyama Castle Cherry Blossom Festival Matsuyama City, Ehime ... Over 300 cherry trees in bloom.

    Kameyama Koen Cherry Blossom Festival Marugame City, Kagawa ... Over 1000 cherry trees in bloom.

    Seibu Koen Cherry Blossom Festival Tokushima City, Tokushima-- Over 500 cherry trees in bloom.

    Matsue Castle Cherry Blossom Festival Matue City, Shimane ... Over 400 cherry trees in bloom.

    Hiroshima Peace Park Cherry Blossom Festival Hiroshima City, Hiroshima ... Over 300 cherry trees in bloom.

    Tsuyama Kakuzan Koen Cherry Blossom Festival Tsuyama City, Okayama ... Over 5000 cherry trees in bloom.

    Kyoto Hirano Shrine Cherry Blossom Festival Kyoto City, Kyoto ... Over 500 cherry trees in bloom.

    Takato Koen Cherry Blossom Festival Takato-town, Nagano ... Over 1500 cherry trees in bloom.

    Takada Koen Cherry Blossom Festival Joetsu City, Niigata ... Over 3400 cherry trees in bloom. Light-up at nights.

    Omiya Koen Cherry Blossom Festival Saitama City, Saitama ... Over 500 cherry trees in bloom.

    Ogawara Cherry Blossom Festival Ogawara City, Miyagi ... Over 900 cherry trees in bloom.

    Mogami Park Cherry Blossom Festival Mogami City, Iwate ... Over 10000 cherry trees in bloom.

    Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival Hirosaki City, Aomori ... Over 2600 cherry trees in bloom.

    Matsumae Park Cherry Blossom Festival Matsumae-town, Hokkaido ... Over 10000 cherry trees in bloom.


    Basho Composing Haiku
    How many, many things
    They bring to mind --
    Cherry blossoms!


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