What’s with Japan and flowers?

Who here is familiar with cherry blossoms? Everyone? And we’re all aware of which country often gets associated with cherry blossoms, right? Cool.

Yes, cherry blossoms are a big thing here in Japan–scientists dedicate their time to figuring out when, exactly, the flowers will bloom in every specific part of Japan. They will also work out peak viewing times, so you can enjoy the blossoms/crowds at your discretion. People not only have parties underneath them but also splurge on seasonal goods– sakura flavored lattes from certain brand-name coffee shops, sakura flavored sodas, Japanese sweets shaped like flower petals, the whole nine yards.

Did you know that this doesn’t only happen with cherry blossoms, however?

Flowers are a big deal in Japan; up in Hokkaido, lavender is a huge hit in summer, drawing crowds galore to view fields of them. There are tulip festivals in the spring, and spider lily festivals in the fall.

Despite the fact that I know very little about flora (except that some of them are pretty and “I like the purple ones”), I’ve been drawn into this craze. Every spring, a friend and I make the trek out around Kansai to find the best spot to view wisteria, or in Japanese, fuji (ふじ).

Wisteria 2016 small
Spotted in Nara Park near Kasuga Shrine.

So what gives? Why do so many people rush all over Japan to get a glimpse of these flowers for the week or so they’re in peak bloom–fighting crowds, buying seasonal souvenirs and novelty items, attempting to snap selfies with these plants in the background? What’s wrong with going to a local botanical garden at your leisure and avoiding all the hassle?

…Well, nothing really, but keep this in mind:

With cherry blossoms, the flowers are seen as very transient. They bloom so briefly and are so susceptible to the lightest rain showers. People often view them as a symbol of a type of philosophy–life is short and bittersweet. Better to enjoy it while you can or, if you wish to go a more spiritual route on the matter, it’s better to learn that attachments to earthly things like this will only bring you suffering.

If you ask the average Japanese person why, of course, you’ll get a variety of much more mundane answers. “The flowers are beautiful!” “I go every year with my mom, so it’s kind of like a family tradition.” Then there’s my least favorite: “Well, Japan has four seasons.”

Siiiiiigh. Yes, yes it does.

At any rate, even if you’re not in Japan for cherry blossom season, keep an eye out for what flowers are blooming wherever you’re at. For example, during May, wisteria and roses are all over the place. If you google “Japan Rose Festival” you’ll find several sites in English offering various events, from Tokyo to Fukuyama.

Have you been to a flower festival in Japan? Or are you interested in checking any out?

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