Japanese Traditions for Spring

Young Bloggers  /   /  By Abigail Herrington
Stone Soup Magazine
June 2019

Spring is a time for new life. Japan demonstrates this through their Hanami festival and their story of Amaterasu and Ame-No-Uzume.

Hanami

Hanami in Japan is a festival celebrating the blooming of cherry blossoms, harkening the arrival of spring. The festival is a time for people to assemble and picnic under the trees. They eat wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets. Some of these sweets are Daifuku, which is made from sweet rice flour that surrounds red bean paste, and Yokan, a jellied confectionery made from red or white beans, sugar, and agar, which is a type of gelatin. A traditional beverage is Sakura tea, which is tea made from cherry blossoms. Seasonally decorated teaware is also used.

The festivities usually last all day and into the night. The festival dates vary by location and year because the trees blossom at different rates. Ueno Park and Yoyogi Park in Tokyo are popular spots for cherry blossom viewing. Washington D.C. is also famous for its cherry blossom festivities. Here is a link to the National Park Service’s page on cherry blossom festivals: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/index.htm

Ever since the Heian Period, which lasted from 794-1185, the aristocracy has given parties to view blossoming flowers. In the Azuchi Momoyama Period, which lasted from 1568-1600, viewing parties spread in popularity to the remaining population. Short plays were performed, and women would wear brightly colored kimonos. With the dawn of the age of technology, “Sakura Forecasts” were broadcasted online and on television. Today, pink dots cover maps of Japan showing where the Cherry Blossoms are. These forecasts are usually followed by information on finding the best viewing points, the areas where the seasons have finished, and where the seasons have begun.

Amaterasu and Ame-no-Uzume

Ame-no-Uzume or Uzume is the Shinto goddess of joy, happiness, and good health. She danced to bring the goddess of the sun, Amaterasu, back from where she was grieving. Amaterasu was hiding because her brutish brother grew jealous of her beauty and popularity and went on a rampage, killing one of Amaterasu’s sacred animals. Amaterasu felt so violated and betrayed that she ran away and hid. However, Uzume’s dancing filled Amaterasu with revelry and good humor, dissipating her grief and ensuring the return of spring and sunshine bringing life and fertility. This myth is said to be symbolism for the return of spring after a long, cold winter.

Conclusion

Hanami is the Japanese festival thrown for the blossoming of cherry trees. Families and friends gather underneath the beautiful flowers to enjoy the sights and the companionship. They eat traditional Japanese wagashi and drink tea made from cherry blossoms. One of the traditional stories told in Japan is that of Uzume and Amaterasu. Uzume danced to bring Amaterasu out from grieving. This story is symbolism for the return of spring, sunshine, and life. I highly encourage checking out cherry blossom festivals. Who knows, you might have one near you!

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