Every year, villages, towns, and cities across Japan warmly welcome spring with waves of cherry blossoms. As the national flower of Japan (alongside the chrysanthemum and the iris), the cherry blossom—or sakura—holds a special place in Japanese culture.
For centuries, people have flocked to see the flora in full bloom, attending entire festivals dedicated to hanami, or “flower-viewing.” Occurring all over Japan, these festivals attract crowds of flower-loving tourists and locals alike, proving the undying popularity of the Prunus genus plant.
What is the Significance of Cherry Blossoms?
Why are cherry blossoms so significant? In addition to the beauty of its pale pink petals and its prevalence in Japan, the blossom is known for its distinctively short lifespan. Once this tree begins to flower, its delicate blooms will last only for a week or two before the “sakura snow” falls to the ground or is carried off by the breeze. Because of this fleeting phenomenon, the flowers have come to represent life's ephemerality and specifically, the fleetingness of human existence.
Similarly, cherry blossoms represent a time of renewal and rebirth. Year after year, the pops of pink mark the unofficial end of the bleak winter months and signify the long-awaited beginning of spring. This also overlaps with the beginning of the school year in Japan.
When is Japanese Cherry Blossom Season?
While unseasonably warm weather can prompt a premature bloom and uncharacteristically cool temperatures can conversely cause a delay, cherry blossoms typically reach their peak bloom between March and mid-April, making this a prime time for hanami.
Though the custom of hanami is typically linked to cherry blossoms today, it is rooted in the appreciation of a different flowering plant: the plum blossom.
In the 8th century, during Japan's Nara period, upper-class individuals began hosting picnic-like parties beneath plum, or ume, trees. Arriving a month earlier than their cherry counterparts, the tree's sweet-smelling blooms are historically known as “the first important flower to blossom in the spring.”
During the Heian period (794 to 1185), however, picnickers started setting up camp beneath the branches of cherry blossom trees, too. Eventually, the sakura's popularity surpassed that of the ume, reimagining the deep-seated roles of the flowers and redefining the hanami practice.
Cultural Significance of Cherry Blossoms
The cherry blossom remains the most significant flower in contemporary Japanese culture. Its arrival is reliably commemorated in a number of fantastic fetes across the country, with Okinawa, Kyoto, Tokyo, and Hirosaki among the most popular hosts.
Much like the blossom itself, each festival functions as both a springtime celebration and a reminder to stop and smell—or view—the flowers.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is cherry blossom season?
Cherry blossom season, or sakura season in Japan, varies each year depending on location and what date Spring begins. Typically, cherry blossom season in Japan runs from the end of March to the beginning of April. You can check Japan's RailPass cherry blossom forecast for specific dates.
Do cherry blossoms have a special meaning?
Cherry blossoms signify life's ephemerality and renewal, due to their short blooming season which occurs at the beginning of spring.
What is hanami?
Hanami means “flower-viewing” in Japanese. These festivals occur all over Japan, attracting crowds of flower-loving tourists and locals alike to admire the beauty of blooms.
This article has been edited and updated.
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