What does "Sakura" mean to the Japanese?
A deep look at the relationship through history and trivia!
Cherry blossoms are in full bloom for only two weeks at most, but as spring approaches, the news announces a blossom forecast and full bloom forecast, songs about cherry blossoms are played on TV programs, and the streets are filled with accessories and food with cherry motifs.
It is no exaggeration to say that cherry blossom viewing is an annual event for Japanese people, as many Japanese visit cherry blossom viewing spots when the cherry trees are in full bloom.
Why do Japanese people love cherry blossoms so much?
In this article, we will unravel the reasons why Japanese people love cherry blossoms and the relationship between Japanese people and cherry blossoms, based on the history of cherry blossoms and Japanese people.
Table of Contents
Two Reasons Why Japanese Love Cherry Blossoms
To tell the conclusion first, it is believed that there are two reasons why Japanese people like cherry blossoms.
The first reason is that cherry blossoms symbolize the arrival of spring.
In Japan, which has four distinct seasons, "spring" is an exciting season when the cold "winter" is over, the year changes, and various things begin anew.
One of the reasons why Japanese people love cherry blossoms is that when they are in full bloom, they can feel the arrival of such an exciting season.
The second reason is that they are "ephemeral and beautiful flowers".
Even though we have been looking forward to the time when cherry blossoms will be in full bloom for months, they will fall in about two weeks at most.
Since ancient times, Japanese people have always felt aesthetics in the "transience of life", and the fact that the beauty of cherry blossoms in full bloom is a "fleeting flower" that ends up falling in a short period of time is thought to be one of the reasons why they like cherry blossoms so much.
The History of Japanese and Cherry Blossoms from B.C.
The Japanese love cherry blossoms for two reasons, but their values and feelings stem from their long history.
The relationship between the Japanese and cherry blossoms did not begin in recent years; in fact, it began as far back as BC.
Let's take a look back in history to see how the feelings Japanese people have for cherry blossoms today took root.
The Beginning of "Japanese and Cherry Blossoms" Dating Back to the Yayoi Period
The period from 300 B.C. to 250 A.D., when rice cultivation began in the Japanese archipelago and the first Japanese nation was formed, is called the Yayoi Period.
Since the Yayoi period, cherry trees have been worshiped as trees inhabited by the deity of harvest.
The blooming time of cherry trees is closely related to temperature, and they begin to bloom when the weather becomes warmer.
Therefore, it is assumed that rice cultivation was started based on the time when cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
The custom of predicting the good or bad harvest of the rice crop by the blooming of cherry blossoms was also born during the Yayoi period.
"Appreciation of plum blossoms" started earlier than cherry blossoms
Although the relationship between Japanese people and cherry blossoms began in B.C., in fact, it is said that the custom of people appreciating plum blossoms was earlier than that of cherry blossoms.
During the Nara Period (710-794), when Chinese culture was actively introduced to Japan, ume also came to Japan.
The good fragrance of ume became popular among the aristocracy, and the custom of appreciating ume was born.
The Heian period, when the perception of "Hanami (flower viewing) = Cherry Blossom" became recognized
In the Heian Period, the period following the Nara Period, a trend to value Japanese culture emerged, which triggered the popularity of cherry blossoms, which had been enshrined since ancient times.
It was also during the Heian Period that the first cherry blossom viewing was held in Japan.
The emperor of the time held a cherry blossom viewing in 894, and it became an annual event sponsored by the emperor.
Later, cherry blossom viewing became popular not only among emperors but also among aristocrats, and this is said to be the origin of modern Hanami.
The oldest Japanese garden book, “Sakutei-ki”, written in the Heian period, also states that "cherry trees should be planted in the garden," and it can be said that the perception of "Hanami (flower viewing) = Cherry Blossoms" was born in the Heian period.
Kamakura period, when the custom of admiring cherry blossoms while having a banquet was born
Many Japanese people have an image of "spreading blue tarp under cherry trees, bringing food and alcohol, and having a party" when they think of cherry blossom viewing.
This custom of enjoying cherry blossoms with a banquet was born in the Kamakura period, which came after the Heian period.
In the Kamakura period, cherry blossom viewing was held among samurai, and cherry blossom viewing started to be held in the provinces where samurai lived.
From this period, cherry blossom viewing changed and took root as a style of "banquet" under cherry trees.
The cherry blossom viewing held by samurai was grand, and the "Yoshino no Hanami" and "Daigo no Hanami" held by Toyotomi Hideyoshi were especially grand in terms of the number of cherry trees and the number of people who participated.
The cherry blossom viewing lasted for several days, and it is said that tea ceremonies, poetry readings, and Noh performances were held every day.
Edo Period, when Hanami took root among the common people
Until the Kamakura period, people engaged in politics, or rather the upper class, enjoyed cherry blossom viewing.
In the Edo period, common people also began to enjoy cherry blossom viewing.
One reason is that the Edo period was a peaceful time, but an even bigger reason is thought to be that cherry trees were planted as a disaster prevention measure, which led to the spread of cherry blossom viewing among the general public.
The Sumida River still flows through Tokyo today, but at that time it was prone to flooding when there was heavy rain.
However, since it was impossible to build an embankment across the entire area where the Sumida River flows, it is said that cherry trees were planted along the river as a substitute for the embankment.
As a result, the number of places where even common people could enjoy cherry blossom viewing increased, and it became a custom among the general public.
Seven trivia about Japan and cherry blossoms that you will want to tell someone
Next to the history of Japanese people and cherry blossoms, here are seven trivia about cherry blossoms in Japan.
All of these are trivia that you will want to share with the people you will be cherry blossom viewing with.
1. Origin of the word “sakura”
In Japan, since ancient times, names have been given with great care, as "words" are imbued with the "spirit of language".
So, how was "sakura" named?
There are many theories on the origin of the word "sakura," but this article will focus on two.
The first theory is that the name "Sakura" is derived from "Konohana-no-Sakuyabime," a deity that appears in the Chronicles of Japan and the Kojiki, Japan's oldest chronicles.
There is an anecdote that this god sowed cherry blossom seeds from the sky above Mt. Fuji, which is said to have changed from "sakuya" to "sakura" in part of the name.
The second theory is that the word "sakura" originated from the belief in cherry blossoms.
As mentioned in the history of Japanese people and cherry blossoms, cherry trees were thought to be "trees in which the god of grain dwells".
In old Japanese, "sa" refers to the spirit of rice, and "kura" to the place where the spirit of rice descends.
Some believe that the two were combined to form the word "sakura".
2. 70% of Japanese cherry trees are clones
There are many famous cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan and many cherry trees can be seen in the city, but 70% of them are of the "Someiyoshino" variety.
"Someiyoshino" are propagated by grafting or cuttings, so their offspring are not reproduced, and "clones" account for 70% of the cherry trees in Japan.
The uniform coloring of the rows of cherry trees may be a beauty that can only be created by clones.
3. Not just pink flowers? More than 600 types of cherry blossoms
When most people think of cherry blossoms, the color pink comes to mind.
In fact, when you actually go flower viewing at a famous cherry blossom viewing spot, the scenery spreads out before you is pink.
But in fact, there are other types of cherry blossoms with flowers other than pink.
There are more than 600 varieties of cherry trees, including variants and hybrids.
The green-flowered cherry "Gyoiko" begins blooming in late April, turning from yellowish green to yellow, and eventually turning red at the center.
"Gyoko" can be seen at the “Showa Kinen Park” in Tokyo and the “Osaka Mint Bureau” in Osaka.
"Ukonzakura" is a rare cherry tree with yellow flowers.
Its name comes from its resemblance to turmeric, which is drunk to prevent hangovers.
After blooming, the "Ukonzakura" also gradually changes its color to pink.
"Ukonzakura" blooms in "Shinjuku Gyoen" in Tokyo and "Osaka Mint Bureau" in Osaka.
4. Do not break the branches of cherry trees
The act of taking pictures wearing a flower crown made from a broken branch of a cherry tree has become popular, but one should never break or cut a cherry tree branch without permission.
Cherry trees are susceptible to decay, and fungi can enter through the cut surface of the branch, causing not only the branch but also the trunk to rot.
There is a Japanese proverb that says, "Only an idiot prunes cherry trees and only an idiot does not prune plum trees". Cherry trees are susceptible to decaying due to fungus entering through the cut surface of the branch, so they should not be pruned unnecessarily.
Plum trees need to be pruned because they do not bloom beautifully unless unnecessary branches are cut off. It has been passed down from generation to generation.
"Someiyoshino" cherry trees, which account for 70% of all cherry trees blooming in Japan, are particularly susceptible to decay.
To preserve Japan's beautiful natural landscape, please be careful not to intentionally break a cherry branch.
5. Cherry trees in Japan do not produce "cherry" fruits
Many people associate cherry blossoms with "cherries," but the only variety that produces cherries is called "seiyomizakura".
They rarely grow in Japan and are rarely found in places where people view cherry blossoms.
Someiyoshino" and "yamazakura" cherry trees, which are often found at cherry blossom viewing spots, also produce cherries, but they are not tasty enough to eat.
6. Are beautiful cherry trees poisonous?
There is a Japanese saying, "A beautiful rose has thorns," meaning that beautiful things have an aspect that can hurt people, but did you know that "even beautiful cherry blossoms are poisonous"?
Moreover, both the leaves and unripe fruits of cherry trees are poisonous.
In particular, the unripe berries produce a highly poisonous cyanide, so care must be taken when eating cherry berries.
The poison in cherry leaves is not considered a health hazard unless ingested in large quantities, so there is no problem in eating one or two cherry leaves.
Cherry blossoms have poisonous leaves and berries, but in fact cherry blossoms are also a member of the rose family.
The saying, "A beautiful rose has thorns" may be true.
7. Cherry blossom pollen contains an excitatory component
Whenever you are cherry blossom viewing near cherry blossoms in full bloom, don't you naturally enjoy yourself?
That's because cherry blossom pollen contains "ephedrine," an ingredient that excites the sympathetic nervous system.
Perhaps it is because people party and drink under the trees, where pollen containing the stimulant ingredient flies, that there are so many happy drunks at cherry blossom viewing.
The famous story that "the world is a hoax" is actually a "hoax".
Since it is a famous story, many Japanese may believe it.
In fact, cherry blossom pollen does not contain "ephedrine.
It is a hoax spread through the Internet by readers who believed the story in the novel.
It is a hoax that many people believe because they have experienced the excitement and joy of seeing cherry blossoms.
It turns out that cherry blossoms are so attractive to Japanese people that they think such a hoax is true.
Let's learn how the Japanese enjoy the cherry blossoms and enjoy them 120% more!
Japanese people have been enjoying cherry blossoms in various ways since ancient times.
If you are going to go to the trouble of viewing cherry blossoms in Japan, imitate the Japanese way of enjoying them and enjoy Japanese cherry blossoms 120%.
1. Enjoy cherry blossoms while having a party with a large group
Speaking of Japanese "Hanami", as described in "History of Japanese and Cherry Blossoms," Japanese people usually spread blue sheets or other materials under cherry trees or in locations where cherry blossoms can be seen clearly, bring food and alcohol, and enjoy viewing cherry blossoms while eating and drinking in a large group.
At famous cherry blossom spots, it's a major way to enjoy yourself, so much so that you'll have to go early in the morning to find a place to hold a party.
If you are going sightseeing during the cherry blossom viewing season, why not buy food and alcohol with your friends or loved ones traveling together and enjoy viewing the cherry blossoms under the cherry trees?
2. Enjoy fantastic nighttime cherry blossoms lit up
At cherry blossom viewing spots, you can enjoy the cherry blossoms illuminated by lights and lanterns when night falls.
The cherry blossoms, which have a lovely and fragile beauty with a faint pink hue, look fantastic when lit up, and have a completely different charm from cherry blossoms illuminated by the sun.
3. Take a boat ride and enjoy the cherry blossoms from the water
At cherry blossom viewing spots where cherry trees are blooming around the pond, you can take a boat for rent and leisurely view the cherry blossoms from the water.
The boat ride will give you a uniquely Japanese experience as you watch the cherry blossoms reflected in the water and blooming all around you.
We recommend this relaxing experience of watching the cherry blossoms while floating on the water in the warm spring sunlight.
4. Participate in the "Cherry Blossom Festival" and enjoy the cherry blossoms
"Cherry Blossom Festivals" are often held at cherry blossom viewing spots to coincide with the blooming period.
The content of the "Cherry Blossom Festival" varies from place to place, with food stalls lining the streets lined with cherry trees and live music performances held in areas where the cherry blossoms can be seen.
Sometimes areas that are closed to visitors outside of the "Cherry Blossom Festival" are open for a limited period of time.
If you are visiting a famous cherry blossom viewing spot, check to see if a "Cherry Blossom Festival" is being held.
5. Enjoy cherry blossoms as a photo spot
Many people go around taking pictures of cherry blossom viewing spots when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
- Cherry blossoms reflected in a lake
- Shrines, temples and cherry blossoms
- Cherry trees along a river
- Tokyo Tower and other landmarks
Places where you can see the above combination are popular as photo spots.
If you take a picture at a cherry blossom viewing spot where you can see this combination, you will be able to take a photo full of Japanese sentiment.
Starting with the reasons why Japanese people love cherry blossoms, we have explained the history, miscellaneous trivia, and ways to enjoy cherry blossoms and the relationship between Japanese people and cherry blossoms.
If you visit during the cherry blossom season, this article will make your cherry blossom viewing experience even more enjoyable if you read it beforehand.
If you would like to know about cherry blossom viewing spots where you can enjoy Hanami and Sakura Festival, please refer to this article.