A Venerated National Pastime
Every year after the bleak winter skies disappear, tens of millions of Japanese flock to the parks and temple gardens in pursuit of hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. When a gentle breeze carries snowflake-size pink-and-white petals fluttering to the ground on a spring day, it is easy to understand how the Japanese passion for these ephemeral blossoms is an almost spiritual thing.
In Tokyo, city-dwelling office workers make do with nighttime hanami, sake-drinking parties in the large Ueno Park or along the moat encircling the Imperial Palace. But purists and hanami connoisseurs who aim to get as much as possible out of the one- to two-week-long season head for Yoshino Mountain in the Yoshino-Kumano National Park, not far from Nara and Kyoto, Japan’s first capital cities.
The mountain is virtually covered with tens of thousands of centuries-old white mountain cherry trees divided into groves (called Hitome-Sembon, or One Thousand Trees at a Glance) that, according to their altitude, bloom at different times, usually beginning in early April. Marked pathways, scattered temples, a predominantly Japanese blossom-viewing crowd, and the shops and teahouses in the pleasant town of Yoshino promise an unforgettable experience.