The Significance of Cherry Blossom Trees in Japanese Culture
Cherry blossom trees have always drawn attention. In the spring, thousands of tiny, delicate flowers bloom on a single tree, and when they shed their blossoms, petite pink and white petals flutter through yards, parks, and streets.
As a gift from Japan to the United States in 1912, 3,000 of these elegant trees were planted along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. Every year, they bloom for only a couple of short weeks, with the peak bloom period only lasting a few days. For over 100 years, they’ve stood as a symbol of friendship between the two nations, admired by thousands of people over the years.
But, of all the trees around the globe, why would Japan choose the cherry blossom tree? What’s the importance of this tree to Japanese culture?
Whether you own your own cherry blossom tree in Florida or are interested in the cultural significance and symbolism of trees, read on to take a look at the history, symbolism, and modern importance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture.
The History of Cherry Blossoms and Flower Viewings
In Japan, a flower viewing is called hanami, and the regular practice of flower viewing dates back to the Nara Period (710-794 AD).
However, ume, or plum, blossoms were the most popular subject of hanami at the time. While ume blossoms look similar to cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms soon began to gain more admiration.
By the Heian Period (794-1185), cherry blossoms, or sakura, had firmly taken their place in the limelight, becoming a regular subject in poems. But the practice of hanami didn’t become popular until the Azuchi-momoyama Period (1573-1600), when the custom spread through the highest nobles in the Imperial Court. They would often have grand parties as they admired the blossoms, socialized, drank, and feasted.
It wasn’t long until samurais adopted the practice, and soon after that, farmers began climbing local mountains to participate in their own hanami and eat lunch under the pink blossoms. To encourage the regular practice of hanami throughout society, the shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune planted sakura trees in more public areas, allowing commoners to take part as well.
Today’s Cherry Blossom Viewings
In modern-day Japan, everyone participates in hanami, from the wealthy to the poor. They gather with family, friends, and colleagues to admire the blossoms and enjoy one another’s company. Since sakura only bloom for a short time, parks and regular viewing areas are jam-packed with picnic blankets and people during the blooming period.
Because so many gather for something so brief, many people arrive early in the day to save space for their relatives, friends, and coworkers. Most are eager to get the perfect spot for flower viewing, and there are sometimes competitions for the best places.
As they gather for the viewing, people bring meals, sweets, and sake and other drinks, and they will sometimes barbecue beneath the trees. Any food brought to hanami can either be store-bought or homemade, but it will usually feature spring colors that are appropriate for sakura flower viewings, such as pinks, oranges, and reds.
But the Japanese don’t just limit hanami to daytime. A sakura viewing at night is referred to as yozakura, and the trees are beautifully lit up by lights or lanterns, allowing late festivities.
The Symbolism of Cherry Blossoms
While the cherry blossom trees in Washington, DC represent the friendship between the United States and Japan, sakura signify something different in the Land of the Rising Sun. In Japan, sakura often symbolize the fleeting days of mortality. The blossoms bloom for only a short time but do so vibrantly and beautifully, just like human life.
In older times, a fallen cherry blossom represented a samurai that gave up his life for his emperor. And being the symbol of something so significant, sakura adorn all kinds of things in Japan, from kimonos to bento boxes. Cherry blossoms also have a strong presence in haikus and visual entertainment.
Cherry blossoms are representative of spring and a new beginning, and they often bloom around the start of the Japanese scholastic and fiscal years. Because of this, schools and companies begin their welcoming parties with hanami.
Appreciate Nature and Maintain Your Own Trees
The Japanese are acutely aware of the natural world around them and often take the time to observe it both closely and from a distance. Over the centuries, sakura have grown in importance and meaning in the culture, being compared to mortality and a fresh start. In the modern day, the practice of hanami brings diverse people together to share their appreciation of such delicate, beautiful flowers.
If you have a cherry blossom tree or some other flowering tree on your Florida property, consider taking the time to admire it as you drink your morning tea or eat your lunch. For a little help keeping it healthy and well-maintained, turn to Pete and Ron’s Tree Service. We can regularly prune or fertilize your tree, and we can also provide tree care should it develop any harmful diseases or conditions.