The Cherry Blossoms of Brooklyn–Enjoying a Celebrated Japanese Custom in the Heart of Brownstone Brooklyn

It’s Spring again in New York.  And with the arrival of Spring comes longer days, warmer weather, and ballparks filled with fans yearning to hear the sound of the crack of the bat when a baseball’s struck.  Within a beautiful swath of green astride Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, each Spring, locals and tourists alike also enjoy visiting the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BBG) to partake in what the Japanese refer to as hanami, or “flower viewing”.  For many, the main attraction each Spring at this urban garden oasis located just minutes from Manhattan’s asphalt jungle is viewing the flowering cherry blossoms, or sakura.

It is said that the centuries-old custom of hanami, which includes the tradition of celebrating the flowering blossoms with great feasts and the offering of sake to the kami, or the spirits believed to flourish within the trees and throughout nature, proliferated under the Imperial Court of Emperor Saga (785-842) during the Heian Period of Japanese history (794-1195).*  The poetry, literature and art of this period praised the flowering blossoms, which for many were seen as a metaphor of the evanescence of life.  Today, the Japanese people continue to enjoy hanami each Spring across Japan and wherever the flowering trees can be found.

The tradition of hanami at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden culminates in the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, or Sakura Matsuri, a weekend-long festival of events celebrating traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.  The annual Festival, which began in 1981, includes tea ceremonies, samurai sword fighting, folk dance, music, arts & crafts, and a sampling of Japanese food.  The Festival offers a great opportunity to combine culture and sightseeing within a beautiful natural setting.   This year the Festival will take place on the weekend of April 28 – 29, 2012.

For those interested in enjoying this year’s cherry blossoms at their peak, you should come to the Botanical Garden well before the Festival.  As a result of our unseasonably short and mild Winter, Spring arrived quite early this year and therefore, many of the cherry blossoms are already peaking.  Whether you come early or late, however, don’t fret!  Hanami is all about enjoying all of the phases of the blossoming trees, not just their peak, and many of the species at the Botanical Garden blossom at different times.  Check out the CherryWatch Blossom Status Map for up to date information.  Moreover, the Botanical Garden has multitudes of flowers, plants and galleries available to enjoy throughout the year.  Whether you’re a longtime NYC resident or a tourist checking out many of the City’s grand monuments, be sure to include within your itinerary a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple by taking a trip to this elegant, urban garden oasis amidst Brooklyn’s brownstones.  You’ll be glad you did!

To inspire you, check out some photos I took at the Botanical Garden while enjoying hanami in March 2012.  Enjoy!!

A few of the blossoms from Cherry Esplanade.  Notice the varying shades of pink and white.  Some of the trees in the background are still barren of leaves reflecting early Springtime.

Close-up view of the blossoms near Cherry Esplanade.

Close-up view of pillow-white sakura.

A scattering of daffodils dotting a hill slope.

Above: View of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, a beautiful and serene Japanese-inspired garden designed by landscape architect Takeo Shiota in 1915.

Another view of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.  Notice the torii gate, the red-colored gate, in the background.   A torii is a gate traditionally found at the entrance of a Japanese Shinto shrine.

Above: Like a gentle waterfall, pink sakura cascading into the pond.

Another view of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and the torii.

Grape-like bunches of muscari add a lavender-esque contrast to the green.

Rhododendron in the Fragrance Garden.

sakura collage for the cherry blossom enthusiast.  Considered symbolic of clouds, it seems only proper that the clouds in the background reflect a sakura-like pattern of their own.

About the BBG:

The Botanical Garden, founded over 100 years ago, in 1910, is located near the Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and Park Slope neighborhoods of Brooklyn.  Its ideal location is just minutes by train from Manhattan.  It’s just a short walk to the Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park and Zoo, and Grand Army Plaza.  It’s also adjacent to neighborhoods well-known for their stately historic brownstones, boutique shops, and diverse dining.  Today, the Botanical Garden, considered one of New York City’s top romantic spots, welcomes over 900,000 visitors a year.  For more information about the Sakura Matsuri Festival and general information about the Botanical Garden’s offerings and fees: festival details.

Festival Details:

Festival hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and Sunday, April 29, rain or shine.  For further details including festival admission fees, visit the Garden’s main website.

Getting There:

The Botanical Garden is located at: 900 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225

By train: Take the B or Q to Prospect Park; or Take the 2 or 3 to Eastern Parkway.





2 Responses to “The Cherry Blossoms of Brooklyn–Enjoying a Celebrated Japanese Custom in the Heart of Brownstone Brooklyn”

  1. 1 Leah Travels (@L_e_a_h) April 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    This is beautiful. I had no idea that this existed in Brooklyn. The white blossoms are my favorite.

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