Although a Japanese winter has nothing on a Canadian winter in terms of actual below freezing temperatures, double pane windows and central heating are rare in the land of the rising sun, so it’s still pretty rough. Difficult winters aside, both countries enjoy four distinct seasons that should be celebrated. One spring tradition that the Japanese have really nailed is hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. Hanami can be done anywhere a sakura, cherry blossom tree, is in bloom, but people often gather in parks with many trees to sit under. Popular spots in Tokyo include Ueno Park, Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku Gyoen, and along the Meguro River. Hanami is a simple pleasure, but there are a few key things to bring along in order to make the most of your time with the blossoms.
- Something to sit on - In order to claim an ideal hanami spot, a member of your party will arrive on site at the crack of dawn to stake a claim by laying down a “leisure sheet” (that’s Japanese for “tarp”). A true hanami warrior will stay with their tarp until other members of the party arrive, which could be hours. If you don't have any really perky friends, you could all just show up at noon and hunt for a decent spot together.
- Something to eat - Starting around lunch time and lasting all afternoon, hanami-goers will lounge around on leisure sheets chatting with friends and making new ones while enjoying the start of spring, and some food. Hardcore hanami parties will include some members who got up early to start packing a picnic feast to share. The giant bento box may contain things like onigiri (rice balls), karaage (fried chicken), and tamagoyaki (a rolled omelet). For those who like to sleep in, showing up with some chips or cookies is also legit.
- Something to drink - A typical hanami scene in Tokyo will include a lot of very well behaved drunk people. Cans of beer or chu-hi (cheap canned cocktails) from the convenience store are the most typical beverage, but since a drunk Torontonian is a little less likely to clean up their mess after a day of drinking in the park, and because it's illegal, we recommend some sparkling water or iced tea to quench your thirst.
- Your phone - The mobile device will come in handy to find your friends, unless you've decided to meet at one of the popular spots listed above, in which case there will be so many people trying to use their phone in these crowded spots that getting a signal will be challenging. Your phone's camera is the really critical feature. Be sure to take some snaps and post your #sakuraselfies on instagram.
The atmosphere can feel very much like an outdoor music festival, with the same party vibe of happy people gathered outside, and comparably long lines at the ladies washrooms, but with the beauty of the blossoms being the headline act. Toronto has but a few public spots where sakura are planted, but fortunately, you won't be battling the crowds here as you would in Japan. So, watch out for our cherry blossom forecasts this week, gather some friends, pack up your onigiri, and head over to one of our favourite Toronto hanami spots: High Park or Robarts Library at U of T. The blossoms only last about a week or so, so if you can’t make it out in time, fear not, this city is teeming with fruit trees, all with beautiful blossoms. So, keep your eyes peeled, get out there and enjoy them!