Sakura is the Japanese word for “cherry blossom”. Sakura is the most famous flower in Japan and considered by many to be Japan’s unofficial national flower. It’s annual blossoming has been celebrated for many centuries and holds a very prominent position in Japanese culture.
In Japan there is a wide variety of cherry blossoms but there is something all these trees share: the ephemeral beauty of their blossoms. Most sakura trees bloom in early spring and their blossoms last for only a week before in evanescent fashion they fall away making room for the leafs to come out. The most popular variety of cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino, its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink near the center of the blossom. Therefore, the trees look nearly white from top to bottom. The brief blooming period of the sakura trees and the fragility of their blossoms, has led to a strong association in Japanese society with the transience of life. Even as the sakura petals fall to ground they are breathtaking to behold as they visually appear to transform into snow falling around you at the breath of even the slightest breeze.
I’ve been told that the sakura blossoms first began to be revered in the Heian Era which began in 794 and lasted until 1185. This is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height. The Heian period is also considered to be the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, poetry and literature. It was during this period that cherry blossom viewing, in the form of special parties that took place outside so that the beauty of the sakura could be observed called Hanami, first gained popularity.
Many hundreds of years later, Japanese people continue the tradition of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties held under the blooming sakura trees is still celebrated. Thousands of people gather wherever the flowering sakura trees can be found and the festivities fill the parks as people hold feasts under the flowering trees, occasionally indulging in one too many drinks of sake, and sometimes these parties go on until late at night.
These parties are so popular in Japan that a sort of cherry-blossom-craze sweeps across the country. There are even cherry blossom forecasts on Tv!!! If I have learned one thing it is never underestimate the Japan love for sakura season! Therefore my advice to travellers wishing to visit Japan during cherry blossom season is book very far in advance.