Chidorigafuchi park with Tokyo Tower

Japan’s Breathtaking Sakura Season

Cherry blossoms (sakura) are deeply ingrained in the history and culture of Japan, and they have come to identify the country. They are full of symbolism, such as their state of impermanence (blooms only last up to a week or two) which resonates with the samurai culture and the Japanese aesthetics of wabi-sabi (view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection). These gorgeous blossoms play a role in numerous Japanese artworks, in the ancient and the modern eras.

Hanami viewing

Hanami viewing.

Cherry blossoms also symbolize clouds because of how they abundantly bloom each spring. The beautiful flowers are often associated with Buddhist influence with the concept of mono no aware (awareness of transience and a sense of sadness that it is a reality of life), dating back to the 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The extreme beauty and quick death of the cherry blossoms are associated with mortality.

Sakura were initially used as offerings for the year’s harvest and marked the beginning of the rice-planting season. Early Japanese believed there was a kami (divine being) inside the trees and made offerings, including sake. The Japanese also have an old practice called hanami that involves picnicking under blooming sakura. This ancient custom dates back to the Nara Period (710-794) when Ume or plum blossoms were the main attraction; by the Heian Period (794-1185), cherry blossoms attracted more attention and became synonymous with hanami. The custom of hanami was originally limited to the Imperial Court. Emperor Saga, the 52nd Emperor of Japan, adopted this practice. He held flower-viewing parties underneath sakura trees in the Imperial court in Kyoto. By the Edo Period, common people enjoyed hanami, and so more flowering cherry trees were planted.

sakura2

 Sakura flowers. | KCP Flickr

The Japanese Meteorological Agency tracks the cherry blossom front (sakura zensen) as the both the Japanese and the tourists anticipate the next bloom. It usually begins in Okinawa in the first months of the year, moving to Kyoto and Tokyo, then onto areas with higher altitude and finally culminating in Hokkaidō. This year’s Cherry blooming forecast began on the 15th of January in Naha, Okinawa until the 5th of May in Sapporo, Hokkaidō.