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© Laura Liverani/Prospekt

Every year, between the end of March and the beginning of April, the Japanese celebrate the blooming of the Sakura, or cherry blossom trees. Due to restrictions and general public concerns because of Covid -19, this is the first time in two years that Hanami (cherry blossom viewing, literally “flower viewing”) will be fully celebrated again, gathering large crowds just like in the pre- pandemic era.

Sakura blooming carries a number of symbolic meanings, represented in Japanese literature and the arts. First of all, the phenomenon signifies the fleeting of time and the caducity of life: Sakura, just like human lives, are short lived: they sprout, bloom, and fall to the ground within two weeks. But Sakura represents also the arrival of spring, a time of renewal.

The practice of Hanami has many significances within Japanese society. Both strolls under the cherry blossom trees to contemplate the flowers, and large gatherings of family, friends and colleagues in parks under the Sakura are the most common ways to celebrate this season.

Mobile phone apps indicate the best time of the year of the Sakura blooming, while Google Maps indicates the best spots for flower viewing. Popular spots for Hanami, such as parks and Sakura tree lined lined streets, become critically crowded, and sometimes pose a crowd management problem.

Eating and drinking under the Sakura trees together to celebrate the Sakura season is widely practiced by the Japanese of all age groups and social backgrounds. There are two main types of parties, those celebrated between family and friends, and those with colleagues from schools and workplaces. Often junior members of the largest groups are sent to the park very early in the morning to secure a spot where to place their pic nic plastic blankets (Shiito in Japanese). This practice applies in particular to large parties organized by companies or schools.

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