It’s cherry blossom season in Japan right now, so I thought it might be a good idea to introduce some Japanese words that you might come across in spring. Don’t worry, those words are rather easy to remember and maybe you already know a few of them.
Well, the most obvious vocabulary that you most likely already have heard of is “sakura” (桜) which means “cherry blossom(s)”.
Personally I really like the kanji for sakura. How about you?
It can also be used as a girl’s name. I have a few students with this name and I’m jealous because it’s such a lovely name. If I ever happen to have a daughter who’s born in spring, I might as well name her Sakura.
The most common cherry blossom type in Japan is called “Somei Yoshino” (染井吉野).
Another one you often come across is the weeping cherry tree “Shidarezakura” (枝垂桜).
Please note that the ‘sa’ sound of ‘sakura’ often changes to ‘za’ when it’s attached to another word.
The beautiful “night view of cherry blossoms” that are often lit up is called “Yozakura” (夜桜, lit.: night cherry blossoms).
When cherry blossoms are in full bloom we say “mankai” (満開). It’s not something that can only be used with cherry blossoms, but with flowers in general.
Screencap taken from yahoo.co.jp
There’s something very important you need to know about if you’re trying to “catch” the cherry blossoms in Japan in full bloom. It’s the so-called “cherry blossom front” ( 桜前線, sakurazensen).
The cherry blossoms don’t bloom everywhere at the same time. They start out in Okinawa (January / February) and then move on to Kyushu, slowly hitting Honshu. Last but not least Tohoku and Hokkaido can enjoy sakura around the end of April / beginning of May.
In order to make sure you get to see the sakura in full bloom, always check the “kaikayosou” (開花予想 ) – the “blooming forecast”.
For you to understand the forecast, it’s important to remember a few more phrases. Please also refer to the graphic above:
- Grey: 散り始め (chirihajime) = the petals have started to fall from the trees / 葉桜 (hazakura) = the trees have turned green (leaves have replaced the pink petals)
- Light pink: つぼみ (tsubomi) = bud; 咲き始め (sakihajime) = started to bloom
- Pink: 五分咲き / 七分咲き (gobuzaki / shichibuzaki) = tells us that the full bloom has almost been reached (50% open, 70% open)
- Dark pink: 満開 (mankai) – full bloom
I’m sure you’ve heard the word many times, but do you really know what it refers to?
Hanami (花見) literally means “flower viewing” as it consists of the kanji for flower (花) and watching (見).
Hanami can be described as a picnic below cherry blossom trees. In most parks you’ll see people sitting on blankets (mostly blue plastic ones) and enjoying the cherry blossoms while eating and drinking with family, friends or co-workers.
Very popular parks and cherry blossom viewing spots are crowded and you have to come early in the morning if you want to get a spot below the trees. It’s especially crazy in Tokyo (e.g. Yoyogi Park or Ueno Park).
Typical food for “hanami” and cherry blossom season is “hanamidango” (花見ダンゴ).
Dango is a type of Japanese sweets made from rice flour.
Sakuramochi (桜餅) is also very popular in spring (for “Hina Matsuri” and cherry blossom season). It’s yet another type of Japanese sweets made from rice flour (mochi), colored in pink, filled with anko (red bean paste) and wrapped in a (pickled) cherry leaf. It’s really delicious!
Hanafubuki / Sakurafubuki
Hanafubuki (花吹雪) or more precisely Sakurafubuki (桜吹雪) is the best part of cherry blossom season.
Fubuki (吹雪) literally means “snow storm”, so Hanafubuki would be “flower snow storm”. I think you get the basic idea.
When the cherry blossom petals are blown around by the wind, it really looks like it’s snowing. It’s snowing cherry blossom petals! Being in the middle of a “Sakurafubuki” feels like being in a fairy tale.
The only sad part is that it means the end of cherry blossom season is drawing near.
I hope you enjoyed this little “vocabulary lesson”. Maybe you learned a few new words today.
Enjoy the rest of cherry blossom season while you still can!