Hanami (which means “viewing flowers” in Japanese) is the popular practice of cherry blossom viewing in Japan. It is enjoyed by both locals and tourists every year during the sakura season, which is currently taking place.
These flowers can be easily mistaken for other similar blossoms. However, cherry blossoms have certain factors that set them apart, including the shape of the petal, colour, and how they grow from the tree. Cherry blossoms have clefts at the tip of their petals. They are usually pinkish and sometimes white. Long stems attach the flowers to the branch from a single bud.
The sakura, together with the chrysanthemum, is considered the national flower of Japan. However, it can also be found in other parts of the world, including but not limited to, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Canada and the United States.
Here are some places in Asia where sakura can be viewed.
1. Japan: Kyoto and Osaka
Kyoto with its temples, imperial palaces, and gardens, is a popular destination in Japan. What more when these tourist attractions are resplendent with the beautiful blossoms. The best sakura viewing period for this former capital of Japan is from the end of March to mid April.
Some good places for hanami include Maruyama Park, Philosopher’s Path, Kamo-gawa River, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Shimbashi/Shirakawa Street, Kyoto Kyoto Botanical Gardens, and Ninna-ji Temple.
Osaka is just about an hour away from Kyoto by the Shinkansen, or bullet train, and slightly longer by bus. The city is a buzz of activity with its culture, street food, and scenic locations. For sakura viewing in Osaka, the best time is from the end of March to the first week of April. Some of the best places for hanami include Osaka Castle, Osaka Mint, Kema Sakuranomiya Park, Ryokuchi-koen Park, and Banpaku Memorial Park.
For more information on travel to Japan, and to confirm the best sakura viewing times, visit: www.jnto.org.my/.
2. South Korea: Seoul and Busan
In Seoul, a huge metropolis of highrises, subways, and pop culture are juxtaposed with palaces, temples, and street markets. The best time to view cherry blossoms is from late March to early April. Some good places for sakura viewing include Seokchon Lake, Yeouido Park, Seoul Forest, and Olympic Park.
Busan, about three hours away by train, is a huge port city with lovely beaches, mountains, and temples. It is often referred to as South Korea’s summer capital. Good places for hanami (end of March to mid April) include Oncheon Stream Park, Haeundae Dalmaji Road, Igidae Coastal Promenade, Mt Hwangnyeong Ring Road, Namcheon-dong Road and Samik Beach Apartments.
For more information, go to www.visitkorea.com.my/.
3. Taiwan: Taipei and Alishan
Taipei, with its skyscrapers, shopping malls, shopping streets and night markets, is a popular tourist destination. A good place to view the cherry blossoms is at Yangmingshan National Park. The best time to view them is from March to early April.
Alishan is about four-and-a-half-hours’ drive away from Taipei. A mountainous area, it is famous for beautiful sunrises and sunsets, spectacular scenery, forest trails, and aborigine villages. The best time to view the cherry blossoms here is from mid March till mid April.
For more information, go to www.taiwan.net.my/.
4. China: Shanghai and Hangzhou
Shanghai, China’s largest city, is well-known for The Bund, a waterfront promenade with colonial buildings that looks amazingly spectacular when lit up at night, as well as its traditional gardens.
The best places to view the cherry blossoms include Shanghai Botanical Gardens, Shanghai Haiwan National Park, Century Park, Chenshan Botanical Gardens, Fuxing Park and Lu Xun Park.
There’s also the Shanghai Cherry Blossom Festival that visitors can check out, which takes place in Gucun Park, Baoshan. The best time to view sakura in Shanghai is from mid March till mid April.
Take the train to Hangzhou from Shanghai if you want to see more sakura. Hangzhou is a city steeped in history and culture and located along the Yangtze River delta. It is known for its scenic West Lake. One of the best places for viewing sakura is the Hangzhou Botanical Garden. The best time for this is from mid March to mid April.