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Travel Diary: The Best Picnic Under Cherry Blossom Trees in Kyoto, Japan

My study-abroad friends and I posing in front of the weeping cherry blossom tree.

My study abroad friends and I posing in front of the weeping cherry blossom tree.

One of the first words I learned in Japan when I studied abroad was “hanami” 花見, which translates to “flower viewing”. Everywhere I went, the atmosphere was buzzing with hanami excitement – convenience stores began to sell limited-time only cherry and plum flavored candies and sake, restaurants flaunted perfect sakura shaped washi mochi in food display cases, and dedicated hanami enthusiasts began to plan their itinerary according the cherry blooming forecast. I had arrived in mid-March in Kyoto and it was prime time for hanami – various sakura (cherry blossom) varieties were already in full bloom. On almost every main street, surprising pops of pink trees graced in the foreground of Kyoto’s rolling green hills. Walking down the street, the falling cherry petals almost looked like snowflakes from a distance.

Mono no Aware - 物の哀れ – is a Japanese term for appreciating beauty in the ephemeral and transient. Cherry blossoms are regrettably short-lived; lasting for no more than 3 weeks, this explains why seasonal celebration is such a large cultural phenomenon. The brevity of hanami beauty evokes wonder, sadness, and heightens the awareness of the passage of time.

I was fortunate to join a few hanami picnic parties. On several sunny weekends, my study abroad group of friends and I met up with our Japanese classmates at the 7-11 convenience store right across Yasaka Shrine. There, we would quickly stocked up on convenient and tasty picnic food and beverages: my favorite were salmon onigiri, assorted rice crackers, a bottle of royal milk tea, and peach flavored Chu-Hi, which was basically a sweet carbonated drink that had a fantastic fruity and tart flavor (it also contained only 5% alcohol). The casual picnic was a great social and leisurely activity for people of all age groups; drinking in public was a socially accepted and non-disruptive group activity – a surprising contrast to strict alcohol laws in the U.S.

To my delight, cherry blossoms can be viewed at night too. Visitors can hike up to the famous Kiyomizudera Temple in Gion District and revel at the sight up ornately lit-up trees – the festive occasion reminded me of Christmas back home. This became of my fondest memories during my study-abroad: there was something eery and magical about visiting sacred temple grounds at night with glowing cherry blossom trees at night. If you ever get a chance to visit Kyoto, I highly recommend you view the cherry blossoms at night

Do you have a favorite cherry blossom viewing location? What was your favorite hanami memory? Drop us a comment below – I’d love to hear about it!

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Left: My friends and I having a picnic and enjoying the view of the cherry blossoms across the Kamogawa River, Kyoto.
Center: Cherry Blossoms in full bloom at Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto. Right: Lit-up trees at night at Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto.



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