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Cherry-blossom trees were a neighborhood staple for me growing up. It wasn’t truly spring until the pink petals were showing against the blue sky, and I took more than my fair share of flowers walking home from the bus stop.
Appreciating cherry blossoms is a casual endeavor on the part of the average American, but for Japan, enjoying the blooms has long been a much more meaningful cultural celebration. Cherry blossoms are called “sakura” in Japanese, and the event surrounding them is “hanami,” or “flower viewing.”
No matter what you call it, ‘tis the season for reveling in nature and snatching up cute sakura snacks and souvenirs. More on the history of hanami below, plus some of my newfound favorite products to celebrate with.
“Hanami” generally refers to sightseeing cherry blossoms, but it can also mean sightseeing plum blossoms, or “ume.” Cherry blossoms tend to bloom from late March to May, but different climates and temperatures can cause different cycles.
Regardless of when they bloom, their life is short and sweet: most will be done in just two weeks. The hanami occurs while the flowers are at their most beautiful, and it’s celebrated by having parties, picnics, and festivals underneath or near the canopies of blossoms.
Japan has celebrated with hanami since at least the Nara period (710-794 AD), when ume sightseeing was more the norm than sakura. Emperor Saga of the Heian period (794-1185 AD) held feasts under the cherry-blossom trees in Kyoto, and at first the tradition was limited to the upper crusties.
By the Edo period (1603-1867 AD), hanami had become a common practice for even the normal folk, and today hanami is celebrated across the country, drawing in tourists from around the world. Cherry blossoms—and even the word sakura—have become internationally (and commercially) well-known.
I’ve never been to Japan (no, watching anime on a regular basis does not count), but when I do eventually go, I’ll be setting my sights on March or April timing. If I can be there for hanami and snag all my sakura souvenirs in person, I’ll never ask anything of the universe again.
Souvenirs to Celebrate Cherry-Blossom Season
Anything with cherry-blossom designs or Japanese origins has me in raptures, and I’m always in trouble when someone suggests a new marketplace or brand to me for sakura shopping. Enter…a friend who knows a lot of super-cool places to spend all my money.
So that you, too, might suffer the temptation (and give in to it, like me?!), here are a few of the recommendations I was provided for sakura trinkets and Japanese goodies.
From Sugoi Mart
Did you know that Japanese Starbucks locations have an exclusive, limited-edition line of sakura products?! I didn’t. Now I do. Now my wallet is lighter, thanks to Sugoi Mart. (It was the Sakura Petal mug that did me in.) For everything sakura direct from Japan, Sugoi Mart has us covered.
Their sakura items range from the aforementioned Starbucks collection to adorable earrings and delicious snacks. I don’t care for the flavor of cherry blossoms, but you can bet I’ll save any packaging that features them. Don’t judge me.
I’m kicking myself for missing out on the March “Sakura Afternoon Tea” box from Sakuraco, which included a sakura glass, spring senbei, and sakura manju. The season isn’t over yet, though, and…I just signed up for the April box, which is called “Sakura Festival.” My body is ready.
Eating authentic Japanese delicacies is obviously best done in Japan, but a close second is having them shipped to the comfort of your own American home, where you can pretend like you’re eating them in Japan. Hand me the mochi, stat.
For building your own sakura, allow me to present the LEGO Bonsai Tree. While not marketed as being a cherry-blossom tree, the pink petals that accompany the set read clearly as such. And when hanami is over? Swap the blossoms for the green leaves. Or don’t. (I wouldn’t.)
I don’t generally build or display LEGO sets, but I don’t live near cherry-blossom trees anymore, and this set just looks so darn good. It’d be a fun project I’d inevitably rope my husband into helping with, and maybe I’d even use it in one of my spider terrariums. Or, like a normal person, just display it in a cute nook in my home somewhere.