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Planning Hanami?

Hanami (花見), or flower viewing party, is the Japanese tradition of viewing the cherry blossoms, the unofficial national flower of Japan.

Jury out on when cherry blossoms will bloom

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Although it may be thought that the unusually warm winter could cause cherry blossoms to bloom earlier than usual, the flowers actually require the chill of winter if they are to bloom properly.

Although the Meteorological Agency will issue forecasts on March 7 for the flowering, experts have said cherry blossoms will appear later than usual in several regions.

After the flowers have fallen, new buds are formed by summer, but remain inactive.

During the cold winter months, the buds are exposed to low temperatures of about 5 C, which stirs them from their dormant state. This phenomenon is called dormancy breaking.

Once the temperature rises after February, the buds begin to grow and come into bloom.

The chill of winter followed by a rise in temperature in early spring are the ideal conditions for the flowers.

Last year’s cold temperatures and snow were sufficient to rouse the buds from slumber. And, as the weather became warmer in early spring, the blooming process was accelerated.

Last spring, the flowering dates were March 21 in Tokyo, March 23 in Fukuoka, and March 28 in Osaka–all earlier than usual.

Average dates are March 26, 28 and 30, for Fukuoka, central Tokyo and Osaka, respectively.

Flowers appeared early in most cities in the Kanto region and to the west.

Meanwhile, temperatures around the country were high in December, a trend that has continued to date.

Snow has not been seen in central Tokyo, where the average January temperature was 7.6 C. The average January temperature in Osaka was 7.5 C. Some places recorded a 2 C increase above average.

Yasuyuki Aono, assistant professor of agricultural meteorology at Osaka Prefecture University, said: "Flowering could occur later than usual in the southern part of the country due to the unusually warm winter weather. In Kyushu, the cherry blossom front might come down from Fukuoka to Kagoshima, contrary to average years."

Meanwhile, the Japan Weather Association issued its forecasts for cherry blossom-flowering ahead of other companies and organizations on Jan. 29.

According to the forecasts, flowers will appear between March 22 to 25 in central Tokyo, between March 24 to 27 in Osaka, and between March 20 to 23 in Fukuoka. These predictions are earlier than average years, as the forecasts take into account the strong winter chills of late December.

The association predicted average dates for the Tohoku and southern Kyushu regions.

Weathernews Inc., a weather information company, has not made its forecasts yet.

"Opinions differ within the company– some say the blooms will appear earlier than average, and others say they’ll be delayed in certain parts. We haven’t reached any conclusions on the effects of the warm winter," a company spokesman said.

The company will issue its forecasts within the week, taking last-minute weather changes into account.

The Meteorological Agency will calculate likely flowering dates after receiving temperature data by Tuesday and issue its first forecasts on March 7.

The agency said, "Flowering might be delayed in regions in which it hasn’t been cold enough to stir the cherry buds."

In Ina, Nagano Prefecture–a popular cherry blossom-viewing spot, those involved in the tourist industry are worried about the forecasts. A spokesman at the city’s Takatomachi tourist association, where an annual cherry blossom festival is held, said: "We still don’t know what effect the warm winter will have on the cherry blossom. We might have to change the date of the festival."

(Feb. 20, 2007)