5 Things About Hanami In Japan That Will Surprise You

good times with good friends

Spring is finally here, and there’s no better way to usher it in than with a hanami party. There’s something really nice about sitting under the fleeting cherry blossoms on a bright breezy afternoon, beer in hand, surrounded by good friends.


fun under the sakura treesBut it’s not all pretty pink petals and alcohol-fuelled merriment of course. If you’ve not done this before, there are some things that might surprise you about hanami – some pleasant, some not.

Here are a few things that I didn’t expect when I went for my first ever hanami party in Ueno park four years ago, and some tips to help you along:


1. It’s crowded. Very, VERY crowded

crazy crowds at ueno

If it’s your first time, nothing can quite prepare you for the massive crowds packing the popular hanami venues. My first hanami party in Ueno park four years ago was equal parts magical wonder and being stuck in a moving wall of people with varying degrees of oral hygiene.


booking a spot

The process of getting a decent place to sit (i.e., not right next to the bursting public toilet – see point no.3) can be gruelling. Most companies in Japan send out their junior recruits up to a day in advance to find and secure the best possible spot for the company party, which they do by placing huge tarps over the claimed area.

If you don’t do that, your chances of finding a spot are about as good as Michael Bay making a movie of your favorite childhood cartoon and NOT crapping all over it (sorry, I’m still bitter about Transformers).

So what does the poor tourist do to stand a chance? Don’t worry, there are ways to get around it.


TIP: It’s a lot easier than you think – make some Japanese friends, or sign up for a hanami party organised by a share house, group or club. They’ll have the logistics sorted out and all you have to do is show up with your Asahi six-pack and best rendition of Koi Suru Fortune Cookie. Plus, it’s a great way to make new friends, both local and international.


2. It’s cool, but you can still burn

lovely atmosphere

Hanami parties usually begin in the late morning and go on until the evening, so that means you’ll be spending a lot of time under the sun. It may sound counter intuitive because the air is nice and cool, but if you’re not careful you might get an unwanted tan, or worse, sunburnt. At least I did.


TIP: Pack a parasol and put on a good sunscreen before heading out.


3. Your bladder will face the greatest challenge of its life


The scenery is stunning, and you’re having an amazing time under the sakura trees with your pals. But all that beer you just downed has to go somewhere, and after a while you’ll be looking for the nearest toilet.

the line for the toilet

You’ll spot it soon enough – that long, snaking line that stretches on seemingly forever. See the lines in the foreground and background in the picture? They’re the same line. Your bladder will be stretched to the limit as you stand there cross-legged and doing increasingly desperate pee hops.

Oh, and if you’re thinking, “Well, I’ll just pop out of the park to one of the shops nearby to use their toilet,” just remember that a few thousand other people are having the exact same thought. There’s no escaping the pee train.


TIP: Make sure to start lining up way before you feel the need to go. A good rule of thumb is to go once every 3-4 drinks, even if you don’t feel like it – your bladder will lull you into thinking everything is ok, and then suddenly go from zero to bursting when you least expect it.


4. There are lots of interesting people, and by interesting I mean drunk out of their pants

this man is smashed

They’re everywhere. At 11 in the morning, lying face down in the grass with their butts poking out. If you have this pristine, romantic image of hanami, you might be in for a shock. The view is spellbinding, but only if you keep your gaze up.

And no hanami experience is complete without the random drunk dude (or a bunch of them) trying to crash your party with bad jokes and even worse attempts at dancing. Enjoy the free entertainment!


TIP: If you’re feeling extra friendly, invite them in for a round of drinks! Or maybe not.


5. Get ready for the aftermath… that never comes

happy hanamiSo what we have here is essentially half the population of Tokyo stuffed into a park, for the sole purpose of getting wasted under the Sakura trees. You’d expect a trail of destruction to be left in their wake, right?

Wrong. Despite all logic screaming otherwise, everything gets cleaned up afterwards. People will pick up after themselves, work in groups to clear up the area and even sort the trash by burnables, plastics and cans. I remember being so impressed, and it’s one of the many reasons why I love Japan.


TIP: Don’t be that guy or girl who leaves their trash everywhere – there are usually no trash bins nearby, so bring along a couple of plastic bags, paper towels and your awesome badge.

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