The Kanhi-Zakura cherry trees bloomed in Okinawa on January 13, kicking off Japan’s sakura season that’s coming a bit earlier than usual in 2021, and signalling sakura aficionados to start scheduling their hanami or flower viewing season.
For more than 17 years, Weathernews website has been publishing a yearly cherry blossom forecast called “Sakura Project.” Using crowdsourced data covering more than two million cherry blossom trees around the country, the organization pulls up a data map, which predicts the day when the cherry blossoms will start blooming around Japan.
The most prestigious variety of sakura during cherry blossom season in Japan is often said to be the Somei Yoshino, also known as the “king of cherry blossoms.”
This variety differs from the Kanhi-Zakura (or Higan Zakura), trees growing in Okinawa, which bloom earlier and are more suited to a humid climate.
Somei Yoshino is the fluffy white and lightly pink variety of blossoms with petals so delicate that, when they fall, they appear to be dancing in the wind.
From Tokyo to Hokkaido
According to Weathernews, the Somei Yoshino will be blooming in many places all around Japan on a slightly early to average schedule this year.
The Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, is expected to be one of the first places where sakura flowers will bloom in mainland Japan. The first blossoms here are predicted around March 18.
The first flowers are expected in Yokohama, Fukuoka, and Kochi by March 20.
Even blooms in northern Japan are expected to come earlier than last year due to predicted high temperatures in April. On April 1, sakura are expected to be opening in Sendai, and to start blooming in Fukushima.
Finally, the cherry blossoms of Hokkaido are set to start early as well, in the latter part of April.
One note for those who plan to enjoy the clouds of blossoms in person is that the start of the bloom is distinguished from the full bloom, which in Japanese is known as mankai (満開). That happens several days later, and for some it’s considered to be the most beautiful period, right at the time when the flowers are at their fullest and the petals slowly start to fall.
Why the Early Schedule?
The forecast predicts that from the latter part of February all through March there will be higher temperatures and more sunny days than usual. This will encourage the steady flowering of the cherry trees.
It’s not just the heat during the sakura season that encourages early blooming. The optimal weather conditions during the rest of the year are just as important.
According to Weathernews, the buds of the cherry blossoms develop between summer and autumn, when there is warm weather. Then, in winter, the buds become dormant and stop growing.
Finally, during the winter, a drop in temperatures causes the tree to come out of dormancy and prepare to bloom for the coming spring.
The warmth in summer and the cold in winter are just as important in favoring early bloom of the much-awaited flowers.
For example, in 2020 Kagoshima (Kyushu) saw a warm winter, which caused the dormancy of the cherry trees to be broken later than usual, and slightly delayed the onset of the cherry blossom season.
A Different Hanami Season?
Hanami ー cherry blossom viewing season ー is more than a simple change of the seasons in Japan.
Enjoying the delicate flower that only lasts for a short period reminds us of the fleeting nature of life. It is a widespread sentiment that is hard to grasp until one comes to Japan.
In a normal year, people gather in parks under the moonlight and the illuminated sakura trees. There are festivals to appreciate the flowers all over the country. Famous castles around Japan provide particularly scenic backgrounds to the time of year, and become popular destinations.
But, of course, 2021 is looking to be far from a normal year due to the continued impact of COVID-19.
There is a high possibility that large gatherings will be discouraged, and festivals will not be as boisterous as a couple of years ago. We can expect people will be encouraged to celebrate hanami in a quiet way.
One example is the much-loved Nakameguro Hanami Festival, which normally features many stalls, lanterns, and a generally festive atmosphere. In 2020, the ward did away with the lighting and stalls entirely, even blocking off the surrounding benches, thereby strongly discouraging visitors from heading to the location, except for a low-key daytime stroll.
This year, it’s likely to be a quiet affair once more, but this doesn’t mean there’s no way to enjoy the cherry blossoms in a safe way.
Stay tuned for more information on how to enjoy cherry blossoms, beginning when and where, as we regularly give you updates on the 2021 cherry blossom viewing season!
Author: Arielle Busetto