Cherry blossoms are as synonymous with Japan as the samurai, or geisha. The sakura, as it is referred to in Japanese, heralds the beginning of spring and brings with it a veil of beautiful white and pink petals that travel the breadth of the country. They may only bloom for a week, but people journey across the world to see them flourish.
The cherry blossoms flower at a time of new beginnings and the Japanese await this occasion eagerly. News coverage, reports, forecasts and predictions are extensive and, once the flowers bloom, the nation welcomes the change together by taking part in Hanami, a celebration of the beauty of nature. As captivating as this is, it all leads to a number of questions…
Why are cherry blossoms so significant?
The cherry blossom only flowers for a week after its fully bloomed, their brevity is a metaphor for the beautiful, but fleeting nature of life. It’s for this reason that the Japanese people celebrate the occasion with Hanami, a long-standing tradition of welcoming spring by appreciating the beauty of nature. People come together to sing, dance and socialise beneath the petals of the cherry blossom. During this time, it’s not unusual to see multiple groups of friends enjoying a picnic beneath the flowers.
The flower buds of the cherry blossoms are actually formed during the summer of the preceding year and continue to slumber before awakening with a vibrant flourish. Their disappearance is known as the sakura snow, a beautiful, yet bittersweet, event when the flowers drift from the trees and create a canvas of white blanket of petals.
Importance in art…
Interest in the cherry trees date back as early as the eight century, when the imperial courtiers would pause to admire the gentle colours of the flowers. Many musicians, artists and photographers have immortalised the cherry blossom in pieces of exquisite art, songs, anime and films. Perhaps the most recognisable to our palate is AE Houseman’s poem ‘Loveliest of Trees, from his 1896 collection A Shropshire Lad.
When and where to go…
The blooming season often begins in mid-to-late March and lasts until the end of the April - even sweeping into May on the occasional year. The cherry blossom flourish traditionally begins in the south of Japan, in the likes of Nagasaki and Fukukoka, and rolls north, progressively covering the country in pink. The town of Kawazu, southwest of Tokyo in the Izu Peninsula is renowned for its early blooming cherry trees, which spring in late February.
Predicting the initial bloom is serious business in Japan. News coverage on the cherry blossom grows exponentially the closer it gets to spring, covering TV screens in equations, predictions and expert opinions. Of course, much of the bloom relies on the weather, which can make it tricky for travellers who want to travel at the right time to see the phenomenon.
To aid in this, Google Maps has engineered a function that allows users to seek out cherry blossoms on its map of Japan for a limited time. There are also numerous websites with relatively accurate predictions on the bloom.
Visit our tour page and book ahead for 2018.
The cherry bloom is one of the busiest periods in the Japanese calendars and hotel rooms book up fast across the country.