"cherry blossom season in Kyoto"
Under the Cherry Trees, 1852
Public DomainUnder the Cherry Trees, 1852 - Credit: Kunisada

The Japanese annually celebrate the coming of the cherry blossoms with an outdoor party beneath the blooms, called hanami.  The tradition is many centuries old, dating from the Nara Period (710–794), when the attention was on ume (plum) blossoms.  During the Heian Period (794–1185), cherry blossoms (sakura) became more popular.  Hanami was first used to refer to cherry blossom viewing in the Heian era novel Tale of Genji.

On Japan's southern, subtropical islands of Okinawa, cherry blossoms open as early as January, while on the northern island of Hokkaido they may not bloom until May. In the central cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place in early April.  Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached about one week after the opening of the first blossoms (kaika).  The cherry blossom front is announced each year by the weather bureau.