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Why people love cherry blossoms in Japan

Cherry blossoms

What’s not to love?

Cherry blossoms are one of the most beautiful things about Japan. Japanese people call them sakura. Not only are cherry blossoms beautiful in their various shades from white to pink, they are also important culturally. There are many activities and foods associated with the cherry blossom season.

What are cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossoms are flowers that bloom on Japanese cherry trees (a.k.a. sakura) all over Japan. They usually bloom in the Spring.

Japanese cherry blossoms also exist in other countries. For example, in the United States there are many cherry trees in Washington DC that were given to America by Japan in 1912 (before the war when the US dropped bombs on Japan). People still go and see them, and they’ve even been on a US postage stamp (which I bought a set of when they were introduced in San Francisco).

Why do Japanese people love cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossom viewing in the Edo period from Wikipedia Commons by TORII Kiyonaga.

Flower viewing (hanami)

Well, of course the beauty of the flower is a huge reason people love cherry blossoms, but there is also a lot of history and cultural significance to the flower. One important part of this is the tradition of flower viewing – or hanami.

Ever since the Nara period (over a thousand years ago) people have been “viewing” the flowers. Apparently it started among the elite but became popular among the general public by the Edo period (1600s-1800s).

Hanami (flower viewing) is basically like a picnic, and people still do it to this very day. Hanami is a way to socialize with others – family, friends or dates. It’s sort of like how we celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving in the US.

Symbolism

Although modern Japanese people mainly like the cherry blossom season for the hanami (flower viewing), symbolism plays a part, too.

I was reading a Japan Airlines (JAL) article about it. They said that the cherry blossom (sakura) represents the fleeting nature of life. The cherry blossom blooms and fades away in just a couple of weeks or so.

I don’t know that Japanese people actually think about the symbolism so much, though – I’ve never heard anyone talk about it here.


Sakura Cake, Dango and Tea
from Wikimedia Commons – uploaded by Mindmatrix.

The food!

Well, there are a lot of foods and drinks that come out around cherry blossom (sakura) season that are themed around (or actually have inside them) sakura. Like, you might not actually believe it, but people eat the petals and the leaves. The sakura Kit-Kat bar is my personal favorite, but there are many foods made from cherry blossoms. Here are a few:

  • Sakura mochi – pink mochi wrapped in a cherry tree leaf! (mochi is rice that is mashed up into a gummy sort of texture, by the way)
  • Hanami dango – dango is like a rice dumpling served as a ball on a stick (usually several balls) – but hanami dango has different colors for the season (including pink!)
  • Sakura flavored Kit-Kat bars – this one is my favorite because it’s Kit-Kat! As an American, I grew up with it – and I don’t even mind that it tastes like flowers.

In conclusion

I think the beauty of the cherry blossoms makes MOST people love the flowers (Japanese or not). However, in Japan, it’s not just the beauty – it’s the annual traditions.

People enjoy celebrating the cherry blossom season just like people celebrate other holidays in other countries. They love the flower viewing parties (hanami), the cherry blossom (sakura) foods and some even love just the symbolism of the flower. This is definitely something I love about Japan.

100 yen coin by As6673 on Wikipedia Commons.

Bonus!

Did you know the cherry blossom is on the 100 yen coin?! I didn’t either, and I look at them all the time!