The hanami business in Japan

There is a popular saying in Japanese: Dumplings over flowers (花 よ り 団 子) , which means that substance is more important than beauty. But this phrase falls short of the phenomenon of cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan. Within a few weeks, the country is painted pink and white. It’s a national obsession that has growing appeal abroad, and it’s a boon for the Japanese economy.

 

Around 63 million people are estimated to travel to and within Japan to see the flourish, spending nearly $ 2.7 billion (301 billion yen) in the process, according to an analysis by Kansai University. . The current flourish is expected to lead to a record number of visitors again.

Forecast of the opening of sakura blossoms
Forecast of the opening of sakura blossoms

As winter recedes, the pink wave makes its way across the archipelago. Full bloom arrived in Tokyo on March 27 and lasted until April 7 thanks to the return of cooler temperatures that extend the life of the fragile flowers.

The exact times of the season vary from year to year. In 2018, most of Japan bloomed a week earlier than normal due to a particularly warm spring. If temperatures rise too fast or a storm occurs, the flowers fall faster.

The flowering trees, called sakura They are present throughout Japan. They are so culturally important that in Japanese there is a word to express their contemplation: Hanami. There are more than 600 scenic spots recorded by Shoubunsha, a Tokyo map publication. This map includes the parks, temples, shrines and other important attractions of the country.

Among the sites where Shoubunsha reported the number of visitors, Ueno Park in Tokyo had an estimated 4 million visitors. But the popularity spreads across the country: Available data shows that the majority of visitors went beyond the three megacities: Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

Ueno Park during Hanami
Ueno Park during Hanami

About 5 million tourists from around the world visited Japan in March and April 2018 according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. More than 2 million came from South Korea and China alone. Americans represent the largest portion of visitors to the Western Hemisphere, with 247,000 during the same period.

Cherry blossom fever is not unique to Japan. In Washington, DC, cherry trees gifted by Japan more than a century ago have reached full bloom, and are a tourist attraction in their own right. For more cherry blossoms, there’s Macon, Georgia, a city in the central part of the state. It is home to more than 300,000 cherry trees, and a festival is held every year. But it’s hard to match Japan’s age-old tradition.

The Japanese government wants to attract 40 million visitors by 2020, when it hosts the Olympics, to surpass the record of 31.2 million in 2018. To reach that goal, the country has relaxed visa policies, more has been spent on infrastructure and has relaxed restrictions on low-cost lines and cruise ships. The number of weekly international flights on low-cost lines has risen from just under 20 to almost 3,000 from 2007 to 2018.

A weak yen is a boon for tourists looking to extend their vacation a bit longer. For the government, this is an opportunity to spur economic growth and convince investors that it still has a lot to offer despite its diminishing global importance. The total economic impact of cherry trees is about $ 5.8 billion according to an estimate by Professor Emeritus Katsuhiro Miyamoto of Kansai University.

Many companies are ready to take a slice of the cake. The hanami It is an excuse for parties, with friends and family gathered around benthos and drinks. Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Asahi are just some of the businesses that try to influence the availability of drinks in the afternoon hanami with commercials with themes sakura. UberEats motivates participants of the hanami to be delivered directly to your meeting point for the picnic.

Starbucks campaign for Hanami

Tokyo-based companies that run errands for their clients, like Nandemo Yutao now offer to set aside your scenic spot for a fee. Yuta Konno, the owner of Nandemo Yutao, charges around $ 26 (3,000 yen) per hour, or more if his clients want to be provided with tables, cushions, food and drinks. “I can set aside up to 24 spots in one day,” he said. In addition, Konno says his service is becoming more popular as competition for venues grows fiercer.

If a picnic on the floor sounds unappealing, there is the option of glamping (glamor + camping): Igloo-shaped clear plastic domes under the trees with tables for coffee and heating are available. A group can rent the Chandon Blossom Lounge space for around $ 80 (9,000 yen) and enjoy a variety of snacks and champagne for an hour and a half.

Other companies are rejecting exteriors entirely. Private rooms for hanami decorated with artificial grass and images of cherry blossoms projected on the walls are gaining popularity. Takeshi Takeoka, director of the real estate company that runs this project called Ikejiri Select House, says that the demand for his themed rooms of sakura grew by 50% this year.

Ikejiri Select House offers rooms to enjoy Hanami indoors
Ikejiri Select House offers rooms to enjoy Hanami indoors

Cherry blossoms and their preparation go like a glove for social networks, particularly Instagram, a company that has promoted the boom tourist this season. Japan is one of the most active markets for Instagram, with the number of users that almost doubled in the last two years to reach 29 million.

And the government is taking advantage of its boost in tourism, especially outside of congested cities. Japan’s national tourism organization partnered with Instagram last year to promote its new hashtag, #UnknownJapan, which challenged users to share images of less iconic sites. The campaign led to 5 million visitors to share posts, according to Ryoko Ichimura, an Instagram spokesperson in Japan. With most of the country in full bloom, a search for the hashtag shows photo after photo of pink branches.

Many visitors are venturing out of the cities. In 2018, more than 40% of visitors stayed in hotels outside of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. In Aomori, the northern prefecture where 1.3 million people live, it had 3.1 million visitors during the hanami from 2018, according to data from Shoubunsha. Earlier this year, Travel + Leisure ranked Aomori the best place to visit in April, when the cherry trees are in full bloom.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, participants of the hanami they enjoy its coloring while it lasts. The flowering in the capital will pass in the next few days, when the pink petals begin to fall. But the end of the season is also full of beauty, when the grass, the ground and the rivers are covered in petals, a reminder of the magic that just happened.