The Timeless Beauty of Japan Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)

Japan and its Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms, or the sakura, is one of the most important symbols in Japanese culture and art. In fact, it is unofficially considered as the country’s national flower. What many don’t know is that there are actually a number of different species of Cherry Blossom trees found in districts throughout the country. The three below are some of the most beautiful according to an article from Japan Monthly Web Magazine: The Shidarezakura, a kind of weeping cherry that blooms from late March to mid-April, have that waterfall kind of feel to it. Its beautiful dark wood trees have long, thin branches that droops. When in full bloom, the flowers look like flowing pink and white water from a waterfall. One famous Shidarezakura tree is the Miharu Takizakura, a thousand-year-old tree found in the Fukushima Prefecture, which has been designated as a national natural monument. Also considered as one of the great cherry blossom trees of Japan is the Usuzumi Sakura. This particular tree is an Edo Higanzakura species that blooms in late march. What makes it a special kind of tree is that it has tiny pale pink blossoms and when they fall their color changes to light gray. Also one of the three great cherry blossom trees of Japan is an Edo Higanzakura tree known as the Usuzumi Zakura which can be found in Usuzumi Park in the Gifu district. Just like the Miharu, it is estimated to be about 1500 years old.

Isasumi-jinja, usuzumi-zakura

Another notable cherry tree in Japan would be the Yamataka Jinaizakura which is also considered as one of the three great trees of Japan. This particular tree is also an Edo Higanzakura tree but found in the Jissoji temple in the Yamanashi district. This tree is the oldest cherry blossom tree in Japan and is estimated to be over 2000 years old, an age which deserves only the most respectful and appreciative reaction.

The Significance of ‘Sakura’ in Japan: Cherry Blossoms Meaning

The Japanese word ‘Sakura’ just literally means cherry blossoms. Some references suggest that the name ‘Sakura’ could be the combination of the Kanji characters for ‘Saku’ and ‘Ra’. ‘Saku’ means blossom and ‘Ra’ means virtuous and respectable. This is why ‘Sakura’ is a popular baby girl’s name in Japan as it is a representation of a virtuous and respectable blossom. These Kanji characters are those that are commonly seen in Sakura word tattoos which can be quite trendy for a few people. According to a report from the Smithsonian, the blooms of the Cherry blossom are very symbolic for the Japanese people. The normal life of cherry blossom flowers peaks for only about a few weeks before it starts to fall. This, together with the flowers’ regal beauty, is a representation of the idealism that life is beautiful but can be very short. It is a good way to ward off the ideas of death and sadness and consider the beauty of rejuvenation and life through cherry blossoms in the spring. The appreciation of the Sakura is taught in schools from preschool even up until university. For the Japanese people, cherry blossom trees are also a common gift of diplomacy and friendship. The Japanese government has given cherry blossom saplings to their allies over the years as a sign of good camaraderie and alliance. This is why there are parks and destinations globally that have cherry blossom viewings like those in Washington DC, US and in Baguio, Philippines.

Cherry Blossoms in Japan Season of Blooms

It is a yearly tradition for many people to await the peak of the blooms of Sakura in Japan and forecasts come as early as October to December. Around January and February people are already planning their trips and vacations all over the country for the famous cherry blossom viewings. Come spring time, it will be hard and expensive to move around the country spontaneously as hotels and inns can be fully booked. The airport is also normally filled up. However, seeing the beauty of the cherry blossom blooms is all worth the price. Kyuhoshi, a Japan Travel & Culture Guide, has provided the first forecast of the peak of the bloom of the Sakura for the year. According to their report, it is to be expected that the trend of the peak blooms goes upward from the lower elevations in the country like Okinawa from the south to the higher elevations like Hokkaido. It is also expected that the first blooms of Sakura will be in the southern islands of Japan particularly Okinawa. As it has been the yearly trend, the city’s first blooms usually appear mid of January until it reaches its full bloom in the first few weeks of February. So anyone who wishes to travel to Japan during this time could visit Okinawa for the first viewing of the year. Other places in the middle and east part of Japan like Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama are expected to experience their first blooms in the last week of March and the full blooms of their cherry blossom trees by early April. Those who are about to travel in this region around this time should definitely include Sakura parks in their itinerary. If ever people have missed the full bloom of the Sakura at these places, don’t lose hope as the cherry blossom blooms are just beginning. In places like Kanazawa, Fukushima, Sendai, Nagano and Niigata the first bloom of Sakura happen on early weeks of April and the full bloom happens by mid-April. In places like Aomori, Hakodate and Matsumae have their cherry blossom trees bloom much later. They experience the first blooms of their cherry blossom trees by the last weeks of April and the full blooms in the first few weeks of May. Sapporo district of Japan is an island located the northern region of the country. It is expected to be the last one to experience the blooms of the Sakura. In this town, their first blooms are expected to appear by early May and the full blooms are expected to last shorter than the rest still around the first few weeks of May. This is best for those who want to see the last full bloom of the Sakura in Japan. It must be an important thing to remember that planning a trip to Japan just to see the Cherry blossoms in full bloom will be a difficult affair. All those dates that have been indicated are mere forecasts which are based on average data from the previous years but there is no clear clue as to when the full blooms will appear. According to a report from Inside Kyoto, it would be good to stay at a minimum of 10 days in Japan for a full-blown cherry blossom bloom experience.

Japan Cherry Blossom Festivals

Cherry blossoms, not only in Japan but also the world, hold so much symbolism and value that there are numerous festivals held throughout the country when the Sakura is in full bloom. Almost each city has their own means of celebrating cherry blossoms. But a festival celebrated in any destination all over the country would be the nationwide gala of the Hanami Festival. According to reports, it is a means for the Japanese people to come together to eat, drink and picnic under the cherry blossom trees an activity done for almost thousands of years. People along with their friends and families spend day and night enjoying the beauty of the blooms and the deliciously warm spring climate.

photo by Ari Helminen - flickr

The entire Japanese population can be found in the best local hanami spots in town. There are even competitions for which the community can get together to make their hanami viewing spot the most famous destination of the year. Local and foreign tourists can get a map of the city then walk around the village, after which they can cast their vote for their favorite hanami spot. The great thing about the Hanami is that it is not necessarily a one-day event like other Japanese festivals. This particular celebration is done throughout the spring time and happens anywhere in the country. It is a good way to appreciate the beauty of nature while spending precious time with loved ones.

The Best Places to See Sakura in Japan: Kyoto and Tokyo

Cherry Blossoms Kyoto

Before Tokyo became the capital city of Japan, Kyoto has been the center of trade and government. It is one of the most popular cities in the entire country and gives a more traditional feel than the metropolitan vibe of Tokyo. It is also home to a number of historic sites during the ancient Japanese times. A five-hour train ride from the capital city, Kyoto can be a great place to tour for the full Hanami experience. One of the great places to visit in Kyoto would be the Philosopher’s walk located in the south district of the prefecture. It is a stream running from the Ginkakuji temple to the Nanzenji temple lined with beautiful cherry trees. Local tourists insist that it is very beautiful and more enjoyable at night when there are fewer people. Found east of the Philosopher’s walk is the Keage which is home to more than a hundred cherry trees. An old railroad of the Kyoto aqueduct, Japan Visitor has indicated that this place is known in history to be a center and market for commerce and trade bringing in goods into the city.

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

With Tokyo being one of the busiest city not only in Japan but also the world, it is a wonder if people living there still have the time to enjoy the cherry blossoms. However, the great thing is that despite being a gigantic concrete jungle there are still a number of places in Tokyo to visit for the famous Japanese Hanami Festival. The best thing about it is that there are a number of useful transportation systems all over the city. One place in Tokyo to visit would be the Ueno Park near the Japan National Museum, roughly 10 minutes from Shibuya. Inside the park are more than a thousand cherry blossom trees and is considered as one of the most beautiful in all of Tokyo. A beautiful and gigantic garden of flowers, this particular park is home to Japan’s noisiest and most crowded cherry blossom parties according to a report from Japan Guide. The Ueno Park has the highest rating popularity for Hanami visits in all of Tokyo.

photo by Asela Jayarathne - flickr

Another popular park, much less noisy and much more romantic than the Ueno park is the Yoyogi park near Harajuku. It is home to more than 600 cherry blossom trees and has a beautiful small pond that has fish in the middle which is perfect for some quiet picnic. It is the best place to go after some tiring shopping in the busy and noisy Shinjuku district of the city. For the night-time viewers, the Meguro River is the best place to be in Tokyo. Although it is manmade, it is home to several hundred meters of line cherry blossom trees which are lighted up with twinkling lights in the evening. Why not enjoy a boat ride or a walk through the canal and enjoy the romantic twinkling lights of the cherry trees.

Sakura of Japan through Time

The Sakura has been an important symbol in Japanese history that it is featured in art and literature even during the Edo and Meiji periods. According to a report from the Library of Congress, there are more than hundreds of historical art and literature that used Sakura as their theme from ancient to modern times. It could be seen in paintings, drawings, pottery, and much more. Women's clothing and hair wear are also common things that feature the majestic beauty of the Sakura.

Kikugawa Eizan - Miyako meibonku naruko no sakura

Live Science reports that the Sakura is an important element in the cultural history of Japan, it is only right to find its influences almost everywhere. There are art pieces which are retrieved from the late 1500s to early 1600s that feature noblemen enjoying parties under the cherry trees – a clear indication that the Hanami festival has been done even in ancient Japan. Wood blocks from the Edo period are also some that feature the beauty of the sakura like the Distant View of Mount Fuji which dates back to the 1600s. There are also paintings of imperial palaces from Kyoto that feature the presence of Sakura in the surroundings. Art and literature are not the only places where the Sakura can be found. It is also a popular inspiration for many culinary products in Japan known as Sakura food. Either the Cherry blossom acts as the main ingredient or it becomes an important inspiration to create the food item itself. There are deserts such as the Sakuramochi which is a pinkish beancurd bun which has been covered by cherry blossom leaves to make it look like Sakura flowers. According to reviews, this particular dish is very aromatic and sweet. Wagashi, or traditional Japanese desserts, also feature the beauty of leaves and flowers into food – a seasonal themed dessert which is served in very expensive and high-end restaurants. There are also places that sell Sakura tea which has been made from dried up bark, leaves and flowers adding an aromatic flavor to the popular local drink.