The Japanese have a tradition called hanami, or flower watching, when they welcome spring by picnicking under the blooming cherry trees. This custom is about admiring the exquisite, yet fleeting beauty of the delicate blossoms and recognizing the ephemeral nature of life. Japan has more than 200 species of cherry blossoms or sakura, but you don’t have to go that far to experience your own hanami. You can visit one of these cities in the United States to bask in the beauty of the blooms.
Washington, D.C., has the most famous Cherry Blossom Festival in the U.S. Thousands of cherry trees gifted from Japan in 1912 and 1965 now line the banks of the Tidal Basin and the grounds of the Washington Monument. Peak bloom time depends on the weather but is normally the end of March through early April. The festival includes the Blossom Kite Festival; Petal Palooza with entertainment, food and fireworks; and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade.
Essex County, New Jersey, has the distinction of having the largest collection of cherry trees in the U.S. at Branch Brook Park, the first county park in the nation. The cherry tree grove, called Cherryblossomland, began with a private donation of 2,000 trees in 1927 by a department store heiress and now numbers more than 5,000. The mid-April festival includes 45-minute bus tours, live music at Bloomfest, Japanese cultural demonstrations, bike races and run/walk events.
In Seattle, Washington, at the end of March, the Quad on the campus of the University of Washington is a bright spot. The 80-year-old cherry blossom trees have their own Twitter account (@UW Cherry Blossoms) to herald the coming of spring and the pale beauty that graces the campus each year.
The Japanese Friendship Garden in the heart of San Diego’s Balboa Park hosts a relatively young Cherry Blossom Festival, when its grove of 200 cherry blossom trees bloom in early to mid-March. Visitors can discover Japanese culture by tasting saké and traditional foods, watching Japanese dance and music performances and offering kids the chance to make paper drums in an arts and crafts area.
In 2009, Nashville, Tennessee, announced a goal of planting 1,000 cherry trees across the city over the next 10 years. They succeeded and now in 2019, the city’s landscape blooms in a profusion of pink each spring. Although the trees are still relatively young, the mid-April festival is taking off. A 2.5-mile self-paced walk on the Cumberland River Greenway is a great way to enjoy the seasonal beauty. In true Nashville originality, the festival also includes Pups in Pink adoption parades, a Cosplay contest and Sumo-suit wrestling.
To visit any of these wonderful cherry blossom festivals, get in touch with your favorite travel advisor for help planning your trip. If you can’t make it this year, at least drive, cycle or walk along Canon Boulevard in our very own Oyster Point business community in late March. Canon Virginia, Inc. planted about 100 Yoshino cherry trees on the east side of Canon Boulevard in the fall of 1986. Later, the City of Newport News planted more cherry trees on the opposite side and around the City Center fountain, so each spring the whole area is graced with glorious clouds of pale pink petals.
Wherever your travels take you, revel in hanami and celebrate the brief beauty of life.