The harbinger of Spring in Japan is the cherry blossom. When the weather turns warm, the trees respond by bursting into flower — thousands of blooms cover branches and fill the senses. When the flowers appear, people engage in an activity known ashanami — flower viewing. Specifically, cherry blossom viewing.
Though hanami takes many shapes and forms — from a stroll in the park to the view outside a window — the most popular form of hanami involves picnics in the park with friends and family. Needless to say, the art of picnicking during cherry blossom season requires stealth and cunning. Popular viewing sites are crowded, requiring a bit of ingenuity, such as staking out a prime spot early the morning. Spots are marked with sheets and other identifying markers — some parties position a person onsite all day to ensure that the spot isn’t taken by someone else.
It isn’t just the viewing of the blossoms that is competitive — accurately predicting the season’s opening provokes much competition among meteorologists. Officials in charge of watching trees for the first opening buds is rough:
I have to look very carefully so I won’t miss anything? he [Eishin Murakata] said one recent afternoon as he examined the agency’s main benchmark tree at a Tokyo shrine. Our mission is so important I don’t have time to enjoy the flowers when we spot them?
Experts track the cherry blossom front, for lack of a better term, as it moves up the island chain. Weather plays a key role — the warmer the temperatures, the earlier the blooms. Since so many parties and events are planned around the season, making a mistake can cost money. There is no room for error.
So it’s easy to imagine the outrage among the super-punctual Japanese last year when the Meteorological Agency predicted the blossoms would open four days earlier than they actually did a triggering a wave of angry calls for greater accuracy.
Warm weather in February and March lead to an accelerated sakura-viewing season. According to Japan Guide, the season officially opened in Tokyo on March 21 (see link below for schedule).