My favorite time of year in Japan has begun, when millions of cherry trees blossom in brilliant shades of pink and white, and virtually every street you walk down looks like a scene out of a Makoto Shinkai anime. Cherry blossom season is a great excuse to engage in one of my favorite past times, 花見 hanami, or flower-viewing, when you spread out a tarp under the cherry trees and contemplate the fleeting beauty of the sakura, hopefully with some hot sake and cold beers and friends with you.
Right now, millions of students are graduating from Japanese schools and universities, donning their uniforms or newly-purchased suits and listening to long, boring speeches by school administrators as they celebrate the ending of one chapter in their lives and the beginning of a new one. The Japanese take ceremonies very seriously, and parents are always decked out in their finest clothes, wiping tears as they watch their children rise to receive their graduation diplomas (presumably not while holding their favorite dakimakura pillows). Graduations can be emotional, animators make use of these scenes in shows like K-On!, Toradora, The Pet Girl of Sakura-sou and Angel Beats to make fans tear up.
If you’re ever planning a visit to Japan during cherry blossom season, it can be quite a challenge to get the timing right since no one is ever sure when the sakura will start to bloom, as colder or warmer weather than average can move the date up or down by two weeks easily. If you ever find yourself in Japan after the season has peaked and the flowers have started to die, never fear, because there’s a clever hack you can use: just head north towards Japan’s Tohoku region, or drive up any mountain, since cherry blossoms at northern latitudes and higher elevations begin and end later.
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