All things have a story...
The Japanese have a custom that extends back hundreds of years. It is called ?hanami? and it literally means ?flower viewing.? Every year from late March to early May, Japanese people from all over the country flock to parks to witness the blooming of cherry blossom flowers and the ume blossom. Cherry blossom flowers are also known as ?sakura? and often blossom for just a week or two. The beautiful pink flowers can be seen all over Japan during this time and parties are held under the trees in the daytime and at night. The custom of celebrating the sakuras at night is called ?yozakura? and often paper lanterns are hung from the trees for lighting.
The custom of hanami started in the Nara Period, about 1,300 years ago. It was at this time that China, under the Chinese Tang Dynasty, had a great influence on Japan. The Japanese tradition of enjoying and appreciating beautiful flowers was influenced directly by the Chinese. When hanami first began, the ume blossoms attracted the most attention, but soon after the cherry blossom trees, or sakuras, began to steal away the attention. In Japan, the sakura were so admired and revered that people believed that divinity existed in the trees and they knelt at the low of the tree, making offerings to the roots. Sake was often drunk at these offerings. The great emperor, Saga, of the Heian Period, promulgated hanami and his court held flower-viewing parties under the cherry blossoms with huge feasts provided and plenty of saki.
Artists began to paint the sakuras in tribute to their beauty and poets wrote poems about them. The cherry blossoms were often mentioned in haikus and the cherry blossom flower was seen as a metaphor for life itself, such was the brief and transient existence of it. Today sakuras and ume blossoms continue to delight and dazzle people from all over the globe. It is worth a trip to see them bloom in the spring. The importance of the cherry blossom was not lost on the Samurai or on Hollywood. In the 2003 movie The Last Samurai, the head Samurai, Katsumoto, said, ?The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.? As he lay dying on the battlefield towards the end of the movie, he looked up a cherry blossom tree in full bloom and uttered his last words, ?perfect, they...are all...perfect.?