One of the cultural aspects I love about Japan is the observation and celebration of the seasons. This is manifested perhaps most strongly in the Hanami – flower viewing.
In the springtime, the cherries across the country put on spectacular displays and people flock for celebrations and selfies. There is a blossom forecast on the weather report to allow people to plan their visits; people gather with friends and families to have picnics and parties under the trees in the parks; and there are special blossom trains to take you on scenic journeys through the cherry orchards.
Whilst cherries are popular as street and city trees in the UK, and are occasionally planted in such numbers as to be worth of a pilgrimage, I wonder whether our most appropriate focus for Hanami might be heather viewing.
Many of our upland areas are transformed in August and September as heath and moorland are washed purple with the flowering of heather. The effect is truly spectacular and well worthy of a pilgrimage one sunny late-summer day. Putting aside the question of ‘naturalness’, and certainly the practises which are predominantly responsible for the habitat, the flowering of the heather represents an easily accessible way for everybody to appreciate nature and reconnect with the shifting of the seasons.
Before the autumn leaves turn – a phenomena equally enjoyed by the Japanese as momojigari – I’d suggest a sojourn to the uplands to enjoy one of the last great shows of summer while you can!
If you do take a trip – keep your eyes peeled for the smart little heather colleges bees which time their lifecycle around the flowering of this species. Find out more about them in my blog post here!