Before moving to the DC area I was ignorant to the all-consuming magic of cherry blossom season. In fact, we had been living in our house for almost a year before I realized that the majority of our yard was taken up by a giant Kwanzan cherry tree. This breed is different from the Yoshino trees around the Tidal Basin in DC because it blooms about two weeks later and has big, poofy double-petaled flowers. Needless to say, I became a woman obsessed and took about 4,000 pictures that first year. I still sit by the window watching the buds grow in anticipation.
I decided that we needed to celebrate this incredible beauty each spring and set to work planning a party for the next year. After doing a little research, I discovered that the Japanese have been holding hanami parties for centuries.
Hanami, or literally cherry blossom viewing, in Japan involves a fun-filled picnic under the blooms (sakura) with music, tea, sake and lavishly prepared bento boxes. Adding to the spirit of the event, it is said that if a petal falls into your cup of tea it will bring you good luck.
Thousands of people fill parks to hold picnic feasts under the flowering trees. In cities like Tokyo, it’s also common to have celebrations under the sakura at night. These nighttime parties are called yozakura. Many places decorate with paper lanterns and set up tables for these yozakura.
Traditionally, people eat a bento box picnic under the flowers. The bento for hanami is prettier than usual with colorful ingredients and vegetables cut into the shape of cherry blossom blooms. These special hanami bentos feature seasonal food like sakura mochi, pink onigiri and red bean treats. The balance of color in these bentos is designed to convey the spirit of hanami. Most people buy their bentos in stores because, as you can imagine, they are incredible time-consuming to make at home.
I was so enchanted by these parties that we hosted one and even hired Kenny from G Sushi (Remember him?) to man a sushi bar. I am sure Ariake, Nikko or Obi Sushi can prepare bento boxes to go if you choose to get the full experience of the sakura this spring.
Photo credit 123rf.com