2018 was quite a year for the infamous Japanese cherry blossom season. In Japanese, the cherry blossom is known as Sakura, さくら。Japan loves Sakura season, as it marks the start of spring and the new range of drinks and food at Starbucks.
Cherry blossoms are celebrated throughout Japan, as they represent delicacy and fleeting beauty. The blossoms show nature at its most delicate, as with a slight breeze, the trees can be stripped of their blossoms. They act of sitting under the blossoms with friends, enjoying the start of spring, and these days a nice cold beer with Sakura decorations, has been happening for a really really really long time in Japan. At first, Hanami, or flower viewing, was associated with the more robust and earlier blooming plum blossom trees, popularised by China. However, in the Heian Period (from 794-1185) the shift to cherry blossom viewing occured. The aristocrats of the time preferred the Sakura blossom, a move likely associated with a shift in Japanese perspectives as they focused on their own national identity. These days in Japan, the act of sitting under blossoms with friends is exclusively reserved for the cherry blossom. In fact, if you accidently sat under a plum blossom you would be seen as quite the fool!
This year was a brilliant bloom. After a rotten winter, spring was on full form, with two weeks of almost uninterrupted sunshine. This meant the blossoms came out and stayed out for just over nine days! It may not sound like a lot, but in 2017 the bloom came and was followed by a slight rain shower a few days later and that was the end of it. Beauty can indeed be fleeting.
Thanks to nine days of bloom, we were able to enjoy the blossoms at several different places. In Senjogahara Park in Shimonoseki, there is plenty of bloom. Here, we enjoyed the spirit of the season, as people gathered together under the trees, laughing, drinking, and lighting BBQs to smother the delicate blossom smell. As the sunshine continued, people went crazy for it! We enjoyed several trips to the park, including one at sunset, where as the sun goes down, the lanterns come on, bathing everyone in a pinkish glow.
We also went viewing at my favourite spot in Shimonoseki, Mizaki Lake. It’s a few kilometres out of Shimonoseki, so the crowds tend not to bother. There are lots of blossoms trees to be enjoyed, along with the beautiful emerald green lake, resident swan couple, and giant, I mean abnormally huge, Koi Carp fish.
There is also a secret viewing place that few seem to know about. We discovered it by accident last year, and this year we discovered it’s even more attractive older sister. A short hike off the main trail around the lake takes you to a road surrounded by blossoms. Here we picnicked and tried to take those traditional photos of food / drink in front of a view. We’re not very good at those it turns out…
After our rest, we decided to take on the mountain behind us. This mountain overlooks our little home in Kajikuri, and we have been meaning to climb it for some time. Now, with our departure looming, we decided it was the time! On continuing up the trail, we discovered a small park area jam-packed with blossom trees. We had it all to ourselves and it was spectacular! We had a truly special time admiring the blossom and our wonderful discovery.
Motivated by the blossom, we started the 650m hike up the mountain. It was all steps…wow. It seriously hurt, but an hour or so of pain and sweat later, we made it to the top and enjoyed views across Yamaguchi prefecture. In fact, it was so peaceful and beautiful up there, I took a little nap for 45 minutes. Perfect.
So this spring season is turning into our best yet in Japan. With no end to the sunshine insight, we are continuing to enjoy the fabulous weather with picnics on the beach and evening walks around our neighbourhood.