Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the old-fashioned Japanese Kitchen

(Flower-Viewing) 花見

Hanami History

Flower-viewing (hanami) has deep history in Japan, dating back to the Nara period (710-784), though in those days it was umé (plum) not sakura (cherry), that was the flower in the limelight -- and an excuse for elaborate partying among the aristocracy. The shift to cherry blossom viewing took place several centuries later. A particularly extravagant affair, hosted in the spring of 1594 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, took place at Yoshinoyama in Nara. The guest list for the event was long (nearly 5,000 names!) and illustrious, including Tokugawa Ieyasu, the warrior-statesman who became Japan’s first Shogun.

Not only the powerful and wealthy indulged in flower-viewing. HANAMI also has a long-established tradition among agricultural communities in Japan. Carrying food and drink to where local cherry trees bloomed, farmers would imbibe while wishing for a good harvest.

Hanami rituals became established among common folk during the Edo period (1600-1868) in part because the Tokugawa shogunate promoted cherry tree planting as an aspect of city planning. Flower-viewing became a popular subject for woodblock prints that pictorially chronicled life in Old Edo.

to add to your hanami bentō picnic

The blossoms and leaves of certain varieties of sakura become edible after being salt-preserved in a pickling process known as shio-zuké (right).

Vividly colored Yaézakura blossoms are especially prized (below, left); pale-petaled Somei Yoshinos leaves (below, right) are preferred for their tenderness deep aroma.