The cherry blossom (Sakura) is a well-known and ubiquitous symbol of Japan and are frequently depicted on traditional Japanese goods and art. The cherry blossom is particularly important in Japanese culture as it represents the end of the winter and the being of new life and growing season of spring.
Sakura (桜 or 櫻) is the Japanese name for ornamental cherry trees, Prunus serrulata, and their cherry blossoms. Cherry fruit (known as sakuranbo) come from a different species of tree.
The most popular cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino, which has nearly pure white petals, with a hint of pink close to the stem. This variety of cherry blossom takes its name from the village of Somei (now part of Toshima inTokyo). It was developed in the mid- to late-19th century at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period. The Somei Yoshino is so widely associated with cherry blossoms that jidaigeki and other works of fiction often depict the variety in the Edo period or earlier; such depictions are anachronismsEach flower has a short life which may last a week, but that short life can be cut short by strong winds or rain which can cause the petals to fall or scatter in the wind. It is this short dramatic and potentially fickle life of the cherry blossom that also influences their role in traditional Japanese culture.
The cherry blossom appear on the trees before the green of the leaves, this makes their sight even more dramatic as the trees in full bloom look almost white from top to bottom. .
Other categories of cherry blossom include yamazakura, yaezakura, and shidarezakura. The yaezakura have large flowers, thick with rich pink petals. The shidarezakura, or weeping cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow, bearing cascades of pink flowers.
CHERRY BLOSSOM FRONT
Annually, the Japanese track the sakura zensen, or Cherry-Blossom Front. Nightly forecasts follow the weather segment of news programs. The blossoming begins in Okinawa in February, and typically reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April. Then it proceeds north, arriving in Hokkaido a few weeks later. Japanese pay close attention to these cherry blossom forecasts. They will go to parks, shrines and temples with family and friends and hold a “flower viewing party” known as hanami (花見). Hanami festivals celebrate the beauty of sakura, and for many, it is a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful view.
Most Japanese schools and public buildings have cherry blossom (sakura) trees outside of them. Since the fiscal and school year both begin in April, in many parts of Honshu, the first day of work or school will coincide with the cherry blossom season.
Japan gave 3,000 sakura as a gift to the United States in 1912 to celebrate the nations’ then-growing friendship. These trees have since lined the shore of the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC (see West Potomac Park), and the gift was renewed with another 3,800 trees in 1956. The sakura trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction (and the subject of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival) when they reach full bloom in early spring.
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