One of the most prominent symbols in Japanese culture and art is the cherry blossom, or sakura. In fact, it is regarded as the nation’s unofficial national flower.
Sakura throughout the History of Japan
Because of the Sakura’s significance, it appears in works of art and literature from the Edo and Meiji eras.
Over the course of history, from antiquity to the present day, hundreds of works of art and literature have used Sakura as their inspiration. Paintings, sketches, pottery, and many other art forms displayed this.
The Sakura’s breathtaking beauty is often featured on women’s apparel and hair accessories.
Considering the significance of the sakura to Japan’s cultural heritage, it’s not surprising to discover traces of it just about everywhere. Even in ancient Japan, people celebrated the cherry blossom season with a festival known as Hanami. Artwork dating back to the late 1500s and early 1600s shows noblemen having feasts under cherry trees.
Edo period wood blocks like as the Distant View of Mount Fuji, which was created in the 1600s, are another example of the sakura’s beauty in wood block form.
Sakura can be seen in the background of certain paintings of Kyoto’s imperial palaces.
The Sakura is not confined to works of art and literature. Many dishes and snacks in Japan are named after the cherry blossoms that serve as their inspiration.
If you’re making a dish that features cherry blossoms, they’ll either be the star of the show or a major source of inspiration. For example, the pinkish beancurd bun called Sakuramochi is topped with cherry blossom leaves to make it look like a bouquet of Sakura flowers.
It has been noted that this meal is exceptionally fragrant and sugary. Traditional Japanese desserts, known as wagashi, incorporate the aesthetic appeal of leaves and flowers into cuisine; these desserts, which typically have a seasonal theme, are served at the most exclusive restaurants in Japan.
Sakura tea, a local specialty with a fragrant flavor derived from dried bark, leaves, and petals, can also be purchased at some establishments.
Japanese Culture and the Meaning of “Sakura”
Sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossoms.
‘Sakura’ is said to be derived from the two Kanji characters for ‘Saku’ and ‘Ra’, according to some sources. Saku signifies flower, and Ra denotes someone who is morally upstanding.
That’s why many Japanese parents choose the name “Sakura” for their daughter, as it connotes a graceful and dignified flower.
Sakura word tattoos, which use these Kanji characters, are popular among several subcultures. The Smithsonian Institution reports that the Japanese attach great meaning to the cherry blossom.
Cherry blossoms typically only bloom for a couple of weeks before they begin to die off. This, together with the flowers’ majestic good looks, is symbolic of the idealism that life is beautiful but fleeting.
Seeing cherry blossoms in the spring is a great distraction from thoughts of death and misery, and a reminder of the beauty of renewal and life. Sakura education begins in kindergarten and continues through college.
A cherry blossom tree is a traditional symbol of kindness and diplomacy among the Japanese. The Japanese government has traditionally presented their allies with cherry blossom saplings as a token of friendship and solidarity. This is why places all over the world, from Washington DC in the US to Baguio in the Philippines, host cherry blossom viewings in parks and other tourist locations.
The Japanese Cherry Blossom Season
Many people in Japan look forward to the time of year when the Sakura flowers are at their peak from October through December. Travel plans for the annual cherry blossom viewings begin to be made in earnest in January and February.
In the spring, it can be difficult and expensive to make last-minute travel plans because many hotels and inns are booked solid. Additionally, the airport typically reaches capacity. However, the sacrifice is well worth it to witness the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Japan travel and culture guide Kyuhoshi has released the first official prediction for this year’s peak Sakura bloom. According to their findings, peak flowering times are moving northward across Japan, from southern islands like Okinawa to northern islands like Hokkaido. The southern islands of Japan, especially Okinawa, are also predicted to have the earliest Sakura blossoms. The city’s typical blooming period lasts from the middle of January through the first weeks of February.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Japan, you may start your year off right by visiting Okinawa for the first viewing of the season. The last week of March typically sees the first blooms of cherry blossom trees in other parts of central and eastern Japan, including Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara, Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokohama, with full blooms occurring in early April.
Those planning a trip to the area around now should be sure to include visits to some of the area’s many Sakura parks. Don’t give up hope if you missed the peak of the Sakura bloom in these areas; the cherry blossoms are just starting to open.
The initial Sakura bloom occurs in early April in regions like Kanazawa, Fukushima, Sendai, Nagano, and Niigata, and the full bloom occurs by mid-April.
The cherry blossom season starts later in locations like Aomori, Hakodate, and Matsumae. The cherry blossoms in their area typically begin to bloom in the latter weeks of April, with full bloom occurring in the early weeks of May.
The Sapporo region of Japan occupies a peninsula in the country’s far north.
It will likely be the last spring to see the Sakura in full bloom. The earliest flowers in this area usually appear in the first week of May, and the full blooms typically endure only a week or two.
If you want to see the Sakura in Japan at their most beautiful, this is the time to go. Planning a vacation to Japan solely to view the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom would be a challenging affair, so keep that in mind.
No one knows for sure when the peak blooming will occur; all of the mentioned dates are only estimates based on average data from past years. You should spend at least 10 days in Japan if you want to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, says a report from Inside Kyoto.
Hanami, Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival
Many celebrations are held across Japan when the Sakura (cherry blossoms) are in full bloom because of the Sakura’s cultural significance. Almost everywhere on Earth, cherry blossoms are celebrated in unique ways.
The Hanami Festival, however, is the national celebration that can be found in every city across the country. Some say it’s a way for Japanese people to continue a centuries-old tradition of picnicking and drinking under cherry trees in celebration of the blossoms’ arrival.
People and their loved ones spend all day and night basking in the springtime sunshine and warmth, marveling at the dazzling flowers and delectable temperatures.
The top hanami places in Japan attract the entire populace. In fact, there are contests where neighborhoods compete to see which one can attract the most visitors for a spectacular hanami display.
Tourists from all over the world can acquire a map of the area, take a stroll through the town, and then vote for their favorite hanami location.
One of the best things about the Hanami is that, unlike many Japanese festivals, it does not have to be limited to a single day. This particular festival is held all over the country in the springtime.
Spending quality time with loved ones can be enhanced by taking in the splendor of nature.
Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Kyoto and Tokyo Are the Best Bets
Kyoto was the economic and political heart of Japan for centuries before Tokyo took up that role. It’s a major tourist destination since it offers a more authentic taste of Japan than the ultra-modern Tokyo does.
Several important ancient Japanese sites can be found there as well. Kyoto, a five-hour train ride from the nation’s capital, is a fantastic tourist destination for a genuine Hanami.
The Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto’s southern neighborhood is a must-see.
Cherry trees flank the brook that connects the Ginkakuji and Nanzenji temples in Japan.
Tourists from the area all agree that the scenery is stunning and that the experience is much enhanced by the lack of crowds. About a hundred cherry trees can be seen in the Keage, which can be found to the east of the Philosopher’s walk.
It has been noted by tourists that this former station on the Kyoto aqueduct was once a bustling marketplace where items were traded and brought into the city.
Tokyo’s famous cherry blossoms
Considering Tokyo’s status as not only one of Japan’s, but the world’s, busiest cities, it’s amazing that locals find time to appreciate the cherry blossoms at all.
The nice thing about Tokyo, though, is that despite being a massive concrete jungle, there are still many locations to enjoy the traditional Japanese festival of Hanami.
The city’s many efficient modes of transportation are its greatest strength.
Ueno Park, next to the Japan National Museum and around ten minutes from Shibuya, is one area to visit in Tokyo.
The park, which boasts over a thousand cherry blossom trees, is often regarded as among the most picturesque in all of Tokyo.
Japan Guide describes this park as “Japan’s most noisy and packed cherry blossom gatherings,” and it’s easy to see why.
In all of Tokyo, Ueno Park is the most highly recommended location to go for a Hanami picnic.
Yoyogi Park, located close to Harajuku, is another popular green space, and it’s a lot quieter and more romantic than Ueno Park.
There are about 600 cherry trees there, and there’s a lovely fish pond in the center where you may relax with a picnic.
After a long day of shopping in the hectic and noisy Shinjuku neighborhood, this is the perfect location to unwind and relax.
There is no better area in Tokyo to take in the city’s nightlife than along the Meguro River. However artificial, it is home to hundreds of cherry blossom trees planted in a straight line, each of which is individually illuminated by night. Why not take a boat ride or stroll along the canal and take in the beautiful cherry tree illuminations?
The Most Beautiful Sakura in Japan
Many people are unaware that there are numerous different varieties of cherry blossom trees that may be found in various parts of the nation.
According to a piece in Japan Monthly Web Magazine, the following three are among the most beautiful:
There is a waterfall-like quality to the Shidarezakura, a type of weeping cherry that blooms from late March to mid-April. The trees in its lovely, dark wood have long, drooping branches.
The flowers resemble flowing pink and white water from a waterfall when they are fully bloomed. The Miharu Takizakura, a 1,000-year-old tree situated in the Fukushima Prefecture and classified as a national natural monument, is one notable Shidarezakura tree.
The Usuzumi Sakura is regarded as one of Japan’s greatest cherry blossom trees. An Edo Higanzakura species, this specific tree blooms in late march. It is a unique kind of tree because it produces tiny, light pink flowers that turn light gray when they fall.
The Usuzumi Zakura, an Edo Higanzakura tree, is one of Japan’s three greatest cherry blossom trees and can be seen in Usuzumi Park in the Gifu region. Similar to the Miharu, its age is considered to be around 1500 years.
The Yamataka Jinaizakura is yet another of Japan’s famous cherry trees, along with the Sakura, the Maple, and the Beech. This tree is another Edo Higanzakura, however it may be found in the Jissoji temple in the Yamanashi area.
The oldest cherry blossom tree in Japan, this specimen is nearly two thousand years old and merits the highest level of reverence and gratitude.