Japan cherry blossom season wilted by the coronavirus pandemic

By Peter Hoskins
Business reporter

A cherry tree in blossom with a person wearing a mask in the background.Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Crowds have been asked to stay away this cherry blossom season

The people of Japan and millions of tourists should now be enjoying the start of the cherry blossom viewing, or hanami, season.

It's an extremely important time of year for the country, both economically and culturally.

Traditionally friends and family get together, and for a new generation it's a perfect Instagram opportunity.

But this year the coronavirus pandemic means events have been cancelled and foreign visitors are staying away.

Katsuhiro Miyamoto from Kansai University highlighted the financial importance of hanami: "Japan's cherry blossom season has very big economic effects every year".

He estimated that almost 8.5m tourists visited the country during the cherry blossom season between March and May last year, bringing in some 650 billion yen ($6bn; £5.2bn).

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Cherry blossom viewing, or hanami, has deep cultural significance in Japan

Seijiro Takeshita from the University of Shizuoka underscored why the gatherings, at which people eat and drink and make merry, are so important to the Japanese economy.

"We use an expression 'the wallet becomes loose', meaning people tend to a have a very high propensity to spend."

"We have so much emotional attachment to this flower and the viewing season... It has a lot of cultural factors, a lot of historical factors behind it," Professor Takeshita added as he explained the wider significance of the cherry blossom season.

This year though hanami events are being cancelled across the country as authorities attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Last week the governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike urged people to not hold their traditional parties. At the same time Ms Koike made reference to the cultural importance of hanami as she said that it was like "taking hugs away from Italians."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Cherry blossom season is also very popular on social media

Professor Miyamoto expects such measures to tackle the pandemic will hit tourism numbers hard this season, with revenue falling by more than a third to less than 400 billion yen.

It's not all gloom and doom though. "Once the coronavirus outbreak is over, I believe that the cherry blossom season in Japan will come to life again," he concluded.

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