The Japanese are known to be very hardworking people. March is especially busy with accounts to be finalized, school graduations to be celebrated, and government transfers to be taken care of. Then, April arrives with a breath of fresh air and brings with it Sakura which makes the focus move from hard work to hard playing.
Sakura: Japanese Cherry Blossoms
Japanese cherry blossoms, known as Sakura, are Japan's unofficial national flower. The blooming of these blossoms has been celebrated for many centuries and has been a very prominent part of the Japanese culture.
There are a wide variety of cherry trees in Japan, most of which bloom for a couple of days in spring. They celebrate this time of the year with 'Hanami', that is cherry blossom viewing parties right under the blooming trees.
Symbolization of Sakura
Cherry blossoms symbolize the transience of life because of their extremely short blooming duration. Falling blossoms are considered to be metaphors for fallen warriors who died bravely in a battle.
The Japanese nobility during the Heian period (794 - 1191) wanted to follow many practices from China including the prominent phenomenon of Hanami, that is flower viewing where people would gather under the blossoms.
Well, the Japanese have come a long way and now the Japanese Meteorological Agency along with the public, track the 'sakura zensen', that is the cherry blossom front as it moves north up the archipelago with the approach of the warm weather. The blossoming reaches Tokyo towards the end of March or the beginning of April.
During the festival, people come out in large numbers to parks, temples, and shrines with family and friends to hold flower viewing parties. The festival is held to celebrate the beauty of sakura and gives the people a chance to relax and enjoy a beautiful view.
From a distance, these trees appear as beautiful clouds while the beauty of single blossoms can be enjoyed from a closer distance. In some places, the blossoms are lit up in the evenings, which add to the beauty.
Traditionally, hanami involves a picnic party under the blooming trees. These parties have been a part of the Japanese culture for centuries and these days they are held, both at public and private gardens across Japan.
Some spots have been identified as particularly beautiful for viewing the cherry blossoms and can get very crowded during the season. It is a common practice to reserve a picnic spot at these popular places long before the party is to be held.
The typical way of reserving a spot is by spreading one's sheet at the spot early in the morning and marking it either by the group's name or the party's time along with the starting time of the picnic. Another common method of reserving a spot is by having someone positioned on the spot till the rest of the group arrives to begin the picnic.
Types of Sakura
There are more than 100 varieties of cherry trees in Japan. 'Somei Yoshino' is the most popular variety of sakura in Japan. The flowers produced by these trees are almost pure white with a pale pink near the stem.
They bloom and usually fall off within a week before the leaves come out. While the flowers have bloomed and not fallen off, the tree looks white from top to bottom.
'Yaezakura', 'Shidarezakura', and 'Yamazakura' are the other categories of sakura. While the Yaezakura has large flowers with thick petals that are rich pink in color, Shidarezakura also known as weeping cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow and bears cascades of pink flowers.
Sakura in United States
In 1912, Japan gifted 3000 sakura trees to the United States to celebrate the growing friendship between the two nations. These trees are lined at the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C.
This gift was renewed in 1965 with 3800 sakura plants. These trees blossom in March and continue to be a very popular tourist attraction. Hanami is also celebrated in other cities like Philadelphia and Georgia annually.
Sakura provide us with one more way to admire the hard work that God has put in to make this beautiful world for us. It is up to us to enjoy their beauty and be eternally grateful.