“Spring has sprung!” as we say in English. The weather is finally getting warmer, the days are longer, and flowers are blooming. Spring brings with it all sorts of traditions, from cleaning house to Easter egg hunts, in both the United States and in Poland. However, there is one tradition that neither of these countries have that I miss very much: Hanami, or flower viewing.
From the Japanese words for “flower” (hana) and “to see” (mi), hanami literally means “to see flowers” and it is one of my favorite Japanese traditions. Every spring when the flowers bloom thousands of Japanese people will flock to the nearest park to watch the flowers with their friends and family. However, hanami doesn’t mean watching just any kind of flower; the Japanese most love to watch cherry blossoms. These are a favorite because of their whitish-pink color and how the petals look like snow when they fall in the wind. Cherry blossoms only bloom for about two weeks out of the year and therefore their fleeting beauty can only be enjoyed for a short time. For this reason they are also considered symbolic of life: short but beautiful.
So how do you hanami? Just looking at flowers may sound simple, but there are actually a few steps to setting up the perfect hanami event! First, you have to stake out your spot. If you want the best place to sit under the trees or that spot next to the river or castle, you have to get there early. Sometimes people will go at dawn to lay down a blanket to reserve their spot but won’t come back until the afternoon. There are no worries that someone will move the blanket or steal your spot before you return, after all this is Japan!
Next, you have to prepare your picnic. No hanami event is complete without the traditional spread of rice balls, egg rolls, fruit, fried chicken, salted fish, and pickled vegetables. Everything is prepared in bite-sized pieces so it can be easily shared and eaten with chopsticks, and many things are even cut into flower shapes for the occasion. You can even make special “cherry blossom flavor” rice cakes! Additionally, don’t forget your favorite drinks. Japan doesn’t have restrictions on drinking alcohol in public places, and the most popular drinks for hanami are Asahi beer and Japanese sake.
Finally, hanami is best enjoyed with people you love, so make sure to tell your friends and family what time and where to meet! Parks are often crowded during this time, so give exact details on where to find your spot if you can. Hanami parties can last all afternoon and into the evening with lots of conversation, storytelling, singing, good food, and companionship. There’s nothing quite like gathering with friends to eat a picnic meal under the trees while the flower petals fall gently around you. Why not try it in Poland too?