Admiring the springtime blooms is a bit of a national obsession common to both Britain and Japan. They will be rapturously received in the UK in 2018 – after the spring seems to have been seriously delayed by snowfall! Here in the UK we are known for seasonally swooning over daffodils, snowdrops and glades of bluebells, but we do also proudly boast a number of cherry trees – both imported Japanese and wild. In Japan cherry blossom is known as ‘sakura’ and it holds a very special place in people’s hearts. There is even a national Japanese ‘blooming forecast’ – in English here on the Japan National Tourist Organisation website.
Literally ‘flower viewing’, 花見(hanami) in Japan appreciates the fleeting, frothing beauty of the cherry blossom trees, most often by sitting underneath them to drink and picnic. Although springtime weather tends to be less settled in the UK, we can still enjoy this custom – if we time it right and the petals haven’t blown away! Read on to find out how and, importantly, where to enjoy the season.
If you like to enjoy your blooms with others, join a hanami gathering in London. The Japanese Conversation Group (affiliated to The Japan Society London) hold an annual hanami event, usually under the trees in Kensington Park. Naturally, the date changes every year. The London Japanese Conversation Meetup Group also usually holds an annual event in Regent’s Park. Check the websites for updates.
If you are heading out independently in search of flowers in London, then the ‘Sequins and Cherry Blossoms’ blog by London writer Fran Pickering is essential reading. Her splendid blog boasts several fantastically comprehensive articles on London cherry blossoms, such as ‘London Parks Cherry Blossoms Top Five’ . You can find not only your nearest park, but also the exact location of the cherry trees (see on location photos of cheering clouds of sakura in the ‘virtual tours’ section), so no time wasted! An invaluable guide, considering how large these London parks are.
Or, if you prefer a tour guide on your quest for London’s cherry trees, why not try a tour with ‘The Museum of Walking’? On April 8th, in collaboration with the fortuitously named tree expert Paul Wood (author of London Street Trees) there will be a ‘walkshop’ around Crouch End. The highlight of the tour will be the ‘Cherry Tree avenue’ – which may well be in full bloom. For South Londoners, there is also a Herne Hill walkshop scheduled for April 3rd, when ‘glorious Japanese Yoshino cherry trees will, with luck, be in full flower’.
Outside of London? This smashing BBC article ‘What is Britain’s best blossom?’ is from 2012 but gives us an interesting overview of the tree species, and ideas of where we can find blooms all around the UK. From the cherry walk at Kew Gardens, to Tatton Park in Cheshire, to Brogdale Farm in Kent, it is worth checking out if there is a particular place to catch sakura blooms near you!
Another good round-up of UK-wide cherry blossom locations – from Cornwall to Wales – can be found in this rather ponderously titled Time Out article: Sakura in spring: time to pop your cherry!
Worried about your sushi tray taking flight in a sudden gust of wind? Why not try the wonderfully weather-proof event ‘Sakura at Sake No Hana’ restaurant, St James’ Street? No need to fret about when & where to catch the elusive blossoms, with this annually & rather convenient transformation into a gorgeous cherry blossom garden.
This year the restaurant will be transformed with an art installation created by London-based artist Lydia Kasumi Shirreff. ‘Inspired by ‘hana fubuki’, a Japanese phrase that translates as ‘cherry blossom blizzard’, Shirreff has created pink paper clouds of blossom suspended from the ceiling. Light will be projected onto the blossom, echoing petals swirling and falling to the ground’. Sake no Hana offers a limited edition menu inspired by spring and created by Head Chef Hideki Hiwatashi, available from 19th March until 16th June 2018. Read JapaneseLondon.com’s review of a previous ‘Sakura at Sake No Hana’ here.