A Japanese Spring

Spring is a season of new beginnings, marked in Japan with a celebration of the country’s cherry blossoms as the country emerges from winter with a beautiful burst of colour and scent – and an excuse for an outdoor party. Mads Schmoll caught up with Janelle Ong from our SMWS branch in Japan to find out more about the spirit of hanami

“Cherry blossom season in Japan is a unique and magical experience for both residents of Japan and visitors,” says Janelle.

“It symbolises the delicate and ephemeral nature of life. Just as spring brings the promise of new life and new beginnings, the soft scent of blossom brings a vibrancy and optimism to the streets.”

If you’re planning on visiting Japan during cherry blossom season, then hanami, or “cherry blossom viewing” should be at the top of your list. Over the centuries, the tradition of viewing the cherry blossom trees in bloom has evolved. Today hanami is celebrated with a picnic or party under the blossoms with friends, family, colleagues and plenty of good food and drink.

“In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura (cherry blossoms) during daytime or at night. Friends and families will hold informal gatherings by selecting a spot with a large concentration of sakura trees for a picnic,” says Janelle. “They will usually bring along alcoholic drinks like sake, beer and shōchū. Revellers bring food such as fried chicken, sushi, onigiri rice balls and edamame soybeans. Some get even more involved, setting up barbecues to cook on the spot.

“Since the Edo period, Japanese will enjoy hanami by eating a pink, white, and green dango (dumpling snack) under the cherry blossoms. In this typical colour combination, the pink, white and green represent the blossoms of spring, the snow of winter and the leaves and grass of summer.” The cherry blossom forecast changes every year. This year the blooms are forecast in Tokyo for around 23 March. Once the trees begin to flower, there is only a window of a week or more to enjoy them. The short timeframe is not dissimilar to spring in Scotland, which can offer sun, warm weather and blooming trees one minute and a snowstorm the next.

This year the blooms are forecast in Tokyo for around 23 March. Once the trees begin to flower, there is only a window of a week or more to enjoy them.

For any members looking to embrace hanami, there are a few essentials. “Friends or family members that we can spend a relaxing time with,” are key says Janelle, along with picnic materials and a good dram to take it all in.

Ultimately it is all about celebrating the moment. “Hanami is a period where the mood in Japan is heart-warming and gentle, where everyone is in good spirits,” says Janelle.

“As a photography-lover, it is the perfect time to do ‘people-watching’ and capture little precious moments of life.”

Whether you’re in Japan for cherry blossom season or another occasion there are also quite a few Society partner bars to visit. “In Tokyo, we would recommend Shinjuku-Gyoen Park and Ueno Park for hanami picnic experiences,” says Janelle. “We have a network of partner bars all over the country, which you are welcome to visit.”

Visit our Members’ Rooms this month for a hanami-inspired cocktail, Japanese Garden, developed by Francesco Ramella from 28 Queen Street, or simply enjoy a dram from our Juicy, Oak & Vanilla flavour profile which often has tasting notes of chocolate-coated cherries, honeysuckle and root ginger.