Pure and elegant, sakura (or cherry blossoms) has long been an unseparated part of Japanese culture. The flowers symbolise the arrival of spring, marking the time for renewals after a winter sleep. Yet this beauty is short-lived. After their peaks around two weeks, the blossoms start to wither, leaving a carpet of pink blush…
Sakura (さくら) is the generic term for hundreds of types of Japanese cherry trees and their blossoms. The flowers usually bloom in April when the weather gets warmer. But in the southern regions, blossoming can begin as early as late March. As warm weather progresses northward, the blooms reach Tokyo and Kyoto areas around early April before moving on to Hokkaido in early May. Depends on the varieties of cherry trees, the flowers boast different colours, ranging from pink-red, pale pink to pure white.
Sakura in Japanese Culture
Like Mount Fuji, sakura holds significant meanings in Japanese culture. Its sublime beauty has mesmerised people from all walks of life for centuries. From citizens, samurais to emperors, they all cherished the spectacular sight of cherry trees in bloom. These Asian flowers also inspired poets and artists who immortalised the blossoms in numerous masterpieces. Though there are many ways in which sakura is interpreted, most of which sing about its transient beauty. Since the flower is very fragile, a spring rain or even a mild breeze can make the petals scatter.
The brief life of the cherry blossoms reminds us of the ephemeral nature of life and of our mortality. In one instance, it’s full of life, blink twice and it could all be gone. Life is overwhelmingly beautiful but tragically short. That’s why every moment is precious and we should make the most of whatever time we have.
Some Facts about Cherry Blossoms
- Though being called “cherry blossom tree”, sakura doesn’t produce edible fruits. It’s an ornamental tree and belongs to the rose family, rosacea.
- 600 varieties of sakura can be found worldwide. Alone in Japan, there are more than 200 types.
- Despite its popularity, sakura has never been officially recognised as Japan’s national flower. In fact, the country doesn’t have one. Sakura shares the role de facto national flowers with the chrysanthemum as it’s the symbol of the Japanese royal family and government.
Myths related to Sakura
- The name sakura is associated with the deity Konohanasakuya-hime (also known as Sakuya-hime), literally translated as the “cherry blossom blooming princess”. She is the symbol of delicate earthly life. Legend said that each spring Sakuya-hime hovers low in the sky, waking the cherry trees up with her delicate breath.
- In the past, a fallen cherry blossom represented the sacrifice of a samurai. People believed that these flowers are the souls of the young warriors who lost their lives for the country. Admirable yet so short-lived.
- Jiu-roku-zakura (the Cherry tree of the Sixteenth day) is another story highlighting this sacrifice. It tells the relationship between a brave honourable samurai and a cherry tree grew on his lands for over a hundred years. When the tree started dying, the samurai (now became old) decided to transfer his life essence to save the tree on the 16th day of the month. Within one hour of the samurai’s sacrifice ritual, the tree began to blossom and continues to live even today. The cherry tree, therefore, harbours many spiritual meanings in the minds of many Japanese.