For the first time ever, the BBC’s Springwatch is heading out of the UK – and Japan has been chosen as the destination.
It’s difficult to think of Japan without thinking of cherry blossom – branches laden with delicate pinky-white blooms. It is this phenomenon that Springwatch presenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and James Wong are investigating in the hour-long BBC Two special.
Cherry blossom – or sakura in Japanese – blooms between the end of March and early May, depending on location, with each tree’s blossoms only lasting for a couple of weeks.
One of the Japanese traditions Springwatch will explore is called hanami. Hanami translates as ‘flower viewing’ or ‘flower watching’ and is the Japanese practice of enjoying the beauty of flowers – particularly the iconic sakura.
Hanami often consists of outdoor parties held underneath a sakura. So important is hanami to the Japanese that there is even a sakura ‘weather forecast’ so that people know exactly when the trees will flower.
An ancient practice, hanami is thought to date back thousands of years. Once the preserve of the imperial family, hanami spread through the rest of society in the 1600s. It is thought that hanami has its origins in the belief that the blooming of the sakura would predict a good or bad harvest.
In the Shinto religion of Japan, it is believed that spirits inhabit trees and people would leave offerings to appease the spirits. This traditional belief has evolved into the modern practice of eating and drinking under sakura to enjoy hanami.
And the Japanese might just have the right idea. There is a growing body of evidence that going out into nature is good for us – both physically and mentally. One such study, carried out by Ming Kuo from the University of Illinois in 2015, argued: “Time spent in and around tree-lined streets, gardens, parks, and forested and agricultural lands is consistently linked to objective, long-term health outcomes. The less green a person’s surroundings, the higher their risk of morbidity and mortality…” Kuo’s research indicated that higher exposure to nature boosted the immune system.
Another health benefit from being out and about in nature is increased exposure to vitamin D – the ‘sunlight’ vitamin which is hailed as a wonder vitamin for everything from warding off colds and flu to helping the immune system and supporting bone function. Being around nature can also help with relaxation and lifting the mood.
So if you want a bit of a boost this Easter, why not try a some hanami of your own? You might not be able to find some cherry blossom, but head out into your garden or park and take some time to relax and enjoy the flowers with friends and family.
Photo credits: Aflo/REX/Shutterstock, Paul Brown/REX/Shutterstock