Sakura (Japanese cherry blossom) is one of the most common Japanese words to spread around the world. The word gained international popularity from both Japanese anime, loved by many around the world, and the many cherry trees gifted to other nations by the Japanese government.
But what does sakura actually mean, and what is the meaning of sakura to people in Japan?
Well, Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossoms, the small, delicate, pink flowers seen during spring. Cherry blossoms are known as the flower of spring, and have become special flowers showing that spring is officially here. These flowers make spring one of the most beautiful and colorful seasons of the year in Japan.
Let’s dive deep into the cultural importance and aspects of sakura season in Japan.
The Importance of Sakura
These small flowers that cover the city with their beautiful pink color are much more than just a flower. They are a national symbol related to Japanese culture.
These cherry blossom trees do not produce any fruit, instead, they bloom with beautiful flowers. Sakura trees only bloom once a year during the spring season, and once in full bloom, they only last for around 10 days.
Even though cherry blossoms are seen in many other countries too, sakura is an iconic image of Japan, with somei yoshino being the most common variety seen in Japan. It even attracts a large number of tourists from different countries to see gorgeous scenes during the sakura season.
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The Significance of Sakura
The sakura bloom marks the end of chilly winters and the beginning of the spring season. However, this is not the only significance of the sakura flowers. They bring in a lot more along with it, including a rich history and cultural significance in Japan.
A long time ago, sakura was used to predict the year’s planting and harvest seasons by indicating the right time to plant crops for farmers. Because of that, the beginning of the sakura season is seen as a sign of renewal in Japan.
Sakura also symbolizes human mortality for many Japanese people. The short blooming period of sakura is often compared to the fleeting nature of life. The flowers are beautiful and brilliant during their strongest bloom, but then it withers and becomes fragile when its time comes, similar to the human life cycle. It reminds people that life is both short but precious.
Japan also starts its fiscal and school year in April, during the cherry blossom season. Sakura, in this case, is a symbol of good luck and hope in Japanese culture.
Sakura season has a huge impact on Japan’s economy as well. It attracts a lot of tourism during this season as cherry blossom parks and gardens see a lot of international travellers. Also, Japanese brands come out with sakura snacks and products to celebrate the season, like the Starbucks sakura drink.
If you are in Japan at the right time, you will be able to find a sakura version of almost anything that you love, including clothes, cosmetics, snacks, chocolates, drinks and more. The most interesting part of these products is the packaging. Brands put more focus on the packaging to attract customers by using the beauty of the season.
The huge popularity of sakura in Japan also brings in a lot of events, festivals, and activities. The whole of Japan and its people take up a full on festive look ready for a celebration.
Hanami (Cherry Blossom Festival) Culture
‘Hana’ refers to a flower, and ‘mi’ means to view. Put them together, and you get a flower viewing event called Hanami. Hanami is not only well-known, it is also a very important event to Japanese people. It is basically like a picnic under the cherry blossom trees.
Hanami is a tradition started in the Imperial Court by Emperor Saga well over a thousand years ago. Japanese people picked up this activity as a picnic or party event to be enjoyed while viewing the flowers. It then became a tradition that friends and family started celebrating every year, evolving into a main event where people can gather, celebrate the beauty of nature, and enjoy Japanese festival foods.
Although there are many Hanami festivals happening across the country, they do not all happen at the same time. The bloom starts in southern Japan and works its way northeast until it finishes in the northernmost part of Japan, Hokkaido. Because of this, sakura season is said to start in March and end in May, despite only lasting for a short time in each area.
Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms In Japan
If you are in Japan during the sakura season, you can see them in every nook and corner of the country. Many streets, walkways, and rivers are covered by these beautiful pink flowers, adding beauty all over Japan. But there are a few parks and locations that are particularly popular for the sakura bloom.
Ashino Park in Aomori has more than 2,300 cherry trees. You can even rent a rowboat to enjoy the amazing view on its lake. Hirosaki Park in Aomori & Takada Park in Niigata are known for their beautiful views of the cherry blossoms at night. Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo, Mitsuike Koen in Yokohama, Chureito Pagoda in Fuji Five Lakes, and Miharu Takizakura in Fukushima are some beautiful options that can be explored too.