Finally! The long, cold winter is over, and spring is arriving in Japan!
Spring is many people’s favourite season in Japan. As in other countries, spring is a sign of new life and a fresh start.
The most famous symbol of spring in Japan is sakura – cherry blossom flowers. As you will see, there are so many Japanese spring words just related to sakura and its related customs!
There are also many public holidays and festivals during the springtime in Japan.
Let’s learn some useful Japanese seasonal words for spring:
kanji character for spring is 春.Haru The
Sakura means cherry blossom. The beautiful, pale pink cherry blossom flowers are the most famous sign of spring in Japan!
Everyone loves to celebrate the sakura season. They represent new beginnings and the end of the long cold winter.
The sakura burst into bloom usually in late March or early April, but the delicate flowers last only for around two weeks. Because of this, they are seen as a symbol of the transience of life.
Although sakura are the most famous spring flower, if you are in Japan in February or March, you might catch a glimpse of the cherry blossom’s early blooming sister – ume, or plum blossom.
These flowers bloom earlier, while it’s still cold. They are the first flower to bloom in spring in Japan.
In my opinion, ume are just as beautiful as sakura. I’m not sure why ume aren’t as widely celebrated. Perhaps because they bloom when it is still too cold to enjoy hanami?
Hanami is a cherry blossom viewing event. The word is made of two kanji: 花 (hana) which means flower, and 見 (mi) which means watch or view. So literally, it means ‘flower watching’.
Hanami are a kind of party where people gather in a park beneath the cherry blossom trees and enjoy food and drinks while they admire the flowers.
Hanami are a huge cultural event every springtime in Japan. Groups of friends, families, workplaces and so on all organise their own hanami parties.
The most popular hanami spots are in great demand! Sometimes people camp out overnight to secure the perfect picnic spot for their party!
You may also hear hanami referred to as ohanami, which is a more respectful term.
Sakura zensen (桜前線)
Sakura zensen means cherry blossom front.
Since the sakura is such a big deal in Japan, it’s natural that everybody wants to know when it will bloom.
The only problem is, nobody knows for sure!
The sakura can bloom at a different time each year, depending on the weather and other conditions that year. And of course, it depends on the location too.
Generally speaking, the sakura zensen starts in the south of the country and moves to the north over the period of a month.
You can check the latest forecast in English and Japanese here.
Mankai means full bloom. It’s the period when the sakura are fully open. Well, technically it means when at least 80% of the flowers on each tree are open.
This is the best time for hanami parties, photoshoots and so on. However, since the sakura bloom at different times each year, it can be difficult to know when this will be!
You’re very lucky if you get to attend a hanami during mankai 🙂
Hana gasumi (花霞)
The characters in hana gasumi are 花 (hana, flower) and 霞 (gasumi, haze or mist).
This is a very evocative word that describes how a springtime tree in bloom looks like a white mist.
Sakura fubuki (桜吹雪)
When the wind blows in springtime, clouds of delicate cherry blossom petals blow off the branches and whirl around like a snow storm! That’s a sakura fubuki (cherry blossom blizzard).
The kanji are 桜 (sakura) and 吹雪 (fubuki; snow storm or blizzard).
Hana akari (花明かり)
Hana akari describes the soft glow that seems to come from a cherry blossom tree in full bloom at night. The lightness of the petals seems to illuminate the evening and make it look brighter.
The kanji are 花 (hana; flower) and 明かり (akari; glow)
Hazakura are the new green leaves that appear on the cherry blossom trees after the blossoms start to fall.
Although it’s a shame when the blossoms disappear, the leaves are beautiful in their own way. They remind us that spring will turn into summer soon.
The characters in this word are 葉 (ha; leaves) and 桜 (sakura).
This isn’t such a pleasant word, but it’s still a very useful one!
Kafunsho means hayfever. Many people suffer from hayfever in springtime in Japan due to the high pollen count.
If this is you, it can help to wear a face mask (マスク).
Haru ichiban (春一番)
Haru ichiban literally means ‘spring number one’ but a better translation would be ‘first spring wind’. It’s the name given to the first strong wind of the year.
Typically it arrives between late February and the middle of March.
The wind arrives from the south on a warm day. It’s considered to be one of the first signs of spring in Japan, so many people are happy to feel it arrive!
The characters are 春 (haru; spring), 一番 (ichiban, number one).
Hina matsuri (雛祭り)
Hina matsuri is a Japanese festival celebrated on 3rd March every year. It means Doll’s Festival and is also known as Girls’ Day.
On this day, families with daughters display a set of hina dolls (hinakazari) that represent the Emperor and Empress of Japan and their attendants.
There are also special foods enjoyed on this day, such as:
- ちらし寿司(chirashi-zushi) – mixed toppings (such as fish, roe, vegetables and egg) on sushi rice
- 雛あられ (hina-arare ) – colourful rice crackers
- 菱餅 (hishimochi) – rice cake with three layers coloured pink, green and white
- 甘酒 (amazake) – sweet sake
- うしお汁 (ushiojiru) – clam soup
This day is celebrated especially in families with daughters, but of course anyone can enjoy the special foods.
New school term (新学期)
In Japan, the new school year starts in April – unlike many western countries where it starts in September. The start of the new term is called shingakki.
This means that spring, not autumn, is the season associated with the new school year. Also, the financial year starts at the same time.
Kodomo no hi (子供の日)
Kodomo no hi means Children’s Day. It is celebrated on 5 May.
It is also known as Boys’ Day (since girls also have their own day on 3 March!)
Families with boys display samurai helmets (kabuto) or dolls to symbolise strength. You will also see carp shaped banners (koinobori) on display at this time.
A traditional food to eat on Children’s Day is kashiwa-mochi, a rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf.
Golden week (ゴールデンウィーク)
Kodomo no hi is just one of four national holidays that fall inside the same week, known as golden week.
Here are the others:
- 昭和の日(Shōwa no hi) – Shōwa Day , 29 April
- 憲法記念日 (Kenpō kinenbi) – Constitution Memorial Day 3 May
- みどりの日 (Midori no hi) – Greenery Day, 4 May
In Japan people don’t like to take long vacations or use their paid leave from work, so national holidays such as these are a well-appreciated chance to have a break.
Many people use this time to travel. If you are in Japan at this time, be sure to make your travel reservations a long time in advance!
Rebecca is the founder of Team Japanese. She spent two years teaching English in Ehime, Japan. Now back in the UK, she spends her time blogging, self-studying Japanese and wrangling a very genki toddler.