Ever since I was a child, I have been in love with cherry blossoms. The first time I saw them was on a school field trip to the capitol, Washington DC. After seeing The White House, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial, and every other memorial, we ate packed lunches in the shade of cherry blossom trees in a park, along the West Potomac.
I remember being simply overwhelmed by how beautiful the blossoms were, dancing in the wind and blanketing the ground. We took pictures and laughed while picking petals out of our hair.
Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited on a press trip to Fukuoka, Japan, where we toured the Kyushu countryside and caught glorious panoramas of the Yufu River, Yufu mountain, Oita village, and the Beppu Railway. I learned about the flowers’ symbolism, namely that life’s abundantly beautiful but sadly transient — and a few keywords too, like kaiko (blossoms open) and mankai (blossom closing).
Gushing about it to my boyfriend when I returned from the awe-inspiring trip, I promised him — and myself — that we’d see more cherry blossoms in Asia the next year.
Well, that year passed, and this spring is flying by too. I looked up flights to Japan for the month of April, in hopes to surprise him, and WOA! Flights are outrageous. Thrice the price to Fukuoka since the last time I looked. It got me thinking about other places to catch the symbolic blossoms (they signify the transience of life, people!), and there were some surprising finds.
Okay, fine, this won’t come as a surprise to any Canadian readers, but apparently in Vancouver, it’s cherry blossom mania. The city is home to more than 37,000 sakura, which were all sent as a gift from Japan. The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (on March 24-April 17) is celebrating its 10th year with film screening, art, and even a haiku competition.
Too far away? Yeah, I hear you. What about Spain? The Jerte Valley explodes with white flowers come March. The little villages dotting the hillside come alive with festivities — literally called the Fiesta del Cerezo en Flor, featuring food, music, guided walks and tours of the Cherry Museum.
If you need an excuse to go to Paris (but who does?), then try to time it with the sakuras, which tend to bloom in late March. The Parc du Champ de Mars, right by the Eiffel Tower, is hard to beat when it comes to the scenery.
If April travel is out of the question, there’s still time to visit Washington DC. Typically, the big, five-week cherry blossom festival here happens in May, though you can check the government’s thorough website for the exact dates.
Brooklyn also has a famous festival, most prominent around the century-old Brooklyn Botanic Garden in April and May. While the park itself is packed with buds and blossoms, there’s also the Sakura Matsuri Festival to look forward to, which showcases CoSplay, music, ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arranging) and manga exhibits.
But the largest population of Japanese cherry blossoms, outside of Japan? Wait for it… Brazil!
Apparently Brazil of all places boasts the most sakuras, with the majority of them in the state of São Paulo, brought by Japanese immigrants. Another popular place to see the trees is the Botanical Garden of Curitiba, about six hours south of São Paulo. These babies don’t bloom until June-July, too, so you have plenty of time to plan your South American adventure.
Germany also has its own hanami festival in Hamburg. It all goes down along Alster Lake, during Kirschblütenfest, which typically takes place in May. There’s even a “Cherry Blossom Princess”! And martial arts! And food! And of course beer…
A bit closer to Hong Kong, Jinhae in South Korea is supposed to have some awesome sightings. The enormous festival boasts 220,000 cherry trees that are all-white, rather than the more common pink petals, which look like snow when the wind blows.
In China, they are all over the place — think Beijing’s Yuyuantan Park, around Tongji University in Shanghai, all over Guangzhou’s Huadu District, the Nanshan botanical garden and Kunming’s Yuan Tong Mountain.
And if you have the cash to fly to Japan, then check out the Japan Weather Association, which times and tracks the peak blooms so you can make the most of your hanami.
Life is short, just like the cherry blossom season, so see them while you can!