The cherry blossom is Japan’s unofficial national flower. It holds a prominent position in Japanese culture. There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of them only bloom for a few days in spring, making the cherry blossoming season (the Sakura) a busy one in the Japanese social calendar.
The Sakura represents a time of renewal and optimism. The pops of pink mark the ending of winter and the beginning of spring. The quick blossoming also symbolizes the transience of life, a major theme in Buddhism.
The cherry blossom season typically takes place in early April. Japan has a varied climate, from the subtropical islands of Okinawa (where the blossoms open as early as January) to the northern island of Hokkaido (where they bloom as late as May) so the season stretches for many months. In the “middle” of Japan in general, the season is somewhere from late March to early April.
We came to Tokyo on April 1st and we hit the Sakura spot on there but when we came to Kyoto a week later it was almost gone. Himeji is further south than Kyoto but a slightly different climate meant that the season was in full bloom there. The only advice we can give is to book a ticket and hope for the best, worst case you hop on a train a few hours north of wherever you are, and cherrys will be blossoming for you.
Hanami literally means “flower viewing” but it commonly refers to only the cherry blossoming viewing. During the Sakura, the people of Japan (and tourists) flock to parks, shrines, and temples to look at the cherry blossoms. Simply to enjoy the intensity of the many blossoms, you can spot the least senior office clerk sitting alone under a cherry tree waiting a whole day for the rest of the office to join him in the afternoon to have the office Hanami picknick.
The Sakura in Japan is a spectacular sight, when we wandered the gardens of Himeji castle we were surrounded by pink clouds of falling cherry petals, when the wind picked up it was like being in a pink snowstorm!