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Many travelers visit Japan during spring simply because of the various activities and sceneries. Spring events, seasonal fruits, or the simple traveling convenience, Japan is especially accommodating during spring. Here are things that you should not miss when planning to visit when the flowers bloom!
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The month of March marks the start of the season of renewal and beginnings - Haru no kisetsu (春の季節) or the spring season. Coming along this season is a bunch of exciting activities throwing Japan in a frenzy of preparations especially with ‘sotsugyoushiki’ (graduation ceremonies) around the corner, a new school term, and celebration of a new fiscal year all happening during spring. Of course, a classic Japanese spring is not complete without the festivities like the colorful ‘Haru matsuri’ (spring festival) and the famous cherry blossom viewing (hanami, 花見) where you can also indulge in delicious Japanese cuisines specially served in this season.
So if you’re planning to go to Japan in March, April, or May, expect to experience some of the best seasonal adventures and some deep cultural immersion. Before that, here is a list of things to look out for in your first Japanese spring.
As winter just recently transitioned into spring, March can still be cold with the temperature sitting at approximately 14 degrees Celsius in the day and can drop to as low as 6 degrees Celsius at night. This makes it not exactly the best time to let go of those winter jackets yet. But don’t worry as this gets better eventually as April rolls around. You can scrap those thick jackets in favor of lighter coats and scarves to style them with. At this time, you will get plenty of sunlight during the day and it can be comfortably warm which is perfect for strolls and walks if you wish to especially it is during this month that the cherry blossoms start entering into their mankai (full bloom). Nights are a whole nother matter though as the temperature is still barely above 10 degrees Celsius so if you decide to go on a yozakura hanami (cherry blossom viewing at night), keep yourself warm by putting on layers.
Come May, it will be much warmer and you can finally switch your jackets for cardigans or light hoodies. Take note, however, the rainy season also commences in this month so make sure to always check the weather forecast. As beautiful as the spring rain maybe, you would not want to get drenched while you are out and risk getting a cold. Along with that, you might want to keep updated on the pollen forecast as well. Pollen allergies are predominant during this season because of excessive pollen dispersal from Japanese cedar trees. When there is a high concentration of pollen in the air, put on a mask when you go out, as many other people do who suffer from kafunsho or pollen sickness.
Now that your spring wear is ready, you are now set to do as many spring activities as you want. And what’s better than kick-starting your first spring in Japan with the classic hanami. Hanami (花見), literally means flower viewing, but most often refers to cherry blossom viewing, is the most popular activity in Japan during the spring season. Families, friends, and co-workers gather to partake in this occasion setting up picnic tarps under sakura trees, enjoying spring dishes, and other Japanese snacks from bento boxes like makizushi, Ebi-fry, and tsukemono. Bring out a bottle of sake and your hanami is complete. If it is sweets you’re looking for, however, you can leave it to the fruit of the season, Ichigo or strawberries and other sakura-themed desserts such as sakura mochi.
However, before you jump to all this, you might be wondering why hanami is such a big deal in Japan. The sakura or the cherry blossom blooms only for a short period of two weeks. To the Japanese, the fleetingness of the moment cherry blossoms bloom is a reminder of the transience of life. This is not overall a sad tale, also because of the meaning behind spring and the symbolism of the sakura itself as that when it blooms, it brings along renewal and new beginnings.
Besides the hanami, there are still plenty of things to do during spring and perhaps, some of the very best are spring festivals or in Japanese called, ‘Haru Matsuri.’ Many of these spring festivals are associated with temples. Perhaps one of the most popular among them is the Sanji Matsuri in Asakusa where a Mikoshi or a Shinto palanquin is paraded along the streets with 10-60 people dressed in their uniform fundoshis carrying the portable shrine. Other festivals held during the spring months are the Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto and Omizutori, the oldest festival in Japan celebrated in Todai-Ji Temple in Nara.
If you want to read about Hanami spots in Tokyo:
Besides cherry blossoms, many kinds of flowers bloom at the same time in Japan during spring. Azaleas, tulips, wisterias are some of the flowers whose bloom can be appreciated alongside cherry blossoms. Most of these are found in flower gardens located across prefectures in Japan. Below are some great destinations worth checking out:
Mifuneyama Rakuen (Saga) is a large garden at the foot of Mt. Karafune (known officially as a national monument of Saga Prefecture) which opened in 1895 and is said to be created by Lord Nabeshima Shigeyoshi. The garden measures up to 13 hectares and has cherry trees and azaleas planted there perfect for flower viewing.
Kawachi Wisteria Garden (Fukuoka) is a renowned garden that features 100-meter long tunnels overgrown with wisteria flowers. It was featured on CNN as one of Japan’s 36 Most Beautiful Places.
Ashikaga Flower Park (Tochigi) is also famous for its wisterias or fuji flowers. In the months of spring, tulips, spiraea, and tunnels of wisteria will greet you. It was also featured as one of CNN’s “Dream Destinations” in 2014.
Hitachi Seaside Park (Ibaraki) is a flower park that features blue nemophila flowers covering Miharashi Hill as well as daffodils and tulips. The park is famous for kochia in autumn as well so the park is popular year round.
Yoshino (Nara) is considered one of the best hanami spots in Japan with about 30,000 cherry trees planted there since time immemorial, lining the ascending path from the foot to the crest of the mountain. Yoshinoyama was also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2004. We couldn’t resist adding a cherry blossom location to the list.
Spring is especially a busy season for students and the workforce especially in the month of April as it marks the start of the new school term in Japanese schools and a new fiscal year for companies. Welcome ceremonies are a common practice in this month for graduates in their first day as employees or students stepping up into a new chapter in their academic life.
After this, a series of holidays follow called the Golden Week, which is celebrated in May. The Golden Week is composed of 4 national holidays that are consecutively observed in the course of one week. These are Showa Day (April 29), Constitution Day (May 3), Greenery Day (May 4), and Children’s Day (May 4). These holidays are arranged in such a way that it makes a 5-day break from work and school. Children’s Day, in particular, is celebrated to wish for children’s health, growth, and success in life. The most notable feature of this event is flying colorful carp streamers called koinobori. Despite the name, however, this event is often associated with boys as girls have a separate day for them called the Hina Matsuri or Doll’s Festival held earlier in March.
Speaking of March, White Day also falls under the spring season during the 14th day of the month. As what is usually depicted in shoujo dramas and anime, this is the time for men to give back to their love interests. Friends and family also exchange sweets during this time. Cookies and chocolates are the usual confectionaries given this season so this is definitely a good time to give and try different sweets in Japan and satisfying that sweet tooth.
Spring brings along new opportunities may they be for families and friends to gather or for starting out a new career. In Japan, both are equally important as observed with the enthusiasm they exert in preparation of the festivities and the happiness they draw from the simple acts of watching cherry blossoms or of dressing well on their first day of work and the well-wishing for children’s growth. It is very telling of the season of spring, which does not only show the beauty of beginnings but expresses the embodiment of love, hope, and spirit of the Japanese.
To read about all seasons in Japan, check out our article here;
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