Hanami” is the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming sakura or ume tree
CHERRY BLOSSOM TIME
Cherry Blossom Time
A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prumus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prumus serrulata, which is sometimes called sakura after the Japanese. Many of the varieties that have been cultivated for ornamental use do not produce fruit. Edible cherries generally come from cultivars of the related species Prumus avium ad Prumus cerasus.
A Gift of Beauty and Friendship.
The beautiful and delicate cherry blossoms cultivated in the National Mall and Memorial Parks have inspired generations of viewer since 1912. A gift from Japan, the flowering trees symbolize friendship between nations, the renewal of spring, and the ephemeral nature of life. Blooming occurs between mid-March and mid-April depending on the species of tree and annual environmental conditions.
Japan gave 3,020 cherry blossom trees as a gift to the United States in 1912 to celebrate the nations’ then-growing friendship, replacing an earlier gift of 2000 trees which had to be destroyed due to disease in 1910. These trees were planted in Sakura Park in Manhattan and line the shore of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. The first two original trees were planted by first lady Helen Taft and Vicountess Chinda on the bank of the Tidal Basin. The gift was renewed with another 3,800 trees in 1965. In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossom trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction (and subject of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival) when they reach full bloom in early spring.
“Hanami” is the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming sakura or ume tree. Even here in Washington, DC, when the Cherry Trees are in bloom, it’s not unusual for families or friends to gather under (or around) the trees at Tidal Basin, and have picnics (for brunch, a lunch or a dinner). It was said that this custom started during the Nara Period (710-794) when it was ume blossoms that people admired at the beginning. By the Heian Period (794–1185), cherry blossoms came to attract more attention and hanami was synonymous with sakura. From then on, in both waka and haiku, “flowers”hana meant “cherry blossoms”. The custom was originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, but soon spread to samurai society and, by the Edo period, to the common people as well. A gentleman named Tokugawa Yoshimume planted areas of cherry blossom trees to encourage this. Under the sakura trees, people had lunch and drank sake in cheerful feasts.
Every year the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public track the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) as it moves northward up the archipelago with the approach of warmer weather via nightly forecasts following the weather segment of news programs. The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and typically reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April. It proceeds into areas at the higher altitudes and northward, arriving in Hokkaido a few weeks later. Japanese pay close attention to these forecasts and turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines, and temples with family and friends to hold flower-viewing parties. Hanami festivals celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom and for many anopportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful view. The custom of hanami dates back many centuries in Japan: the eighth-century chronicle Nihon Shoki records hanami festivals being held as early as the third century CE (AD).
Most Japanese schools and public buildings have cherry blossom trees outside of them. Since the fiscal and school year both begin in April, in many parts of Honshu, the first day of work or school coincides with the cherry blossom season.
The Japan Cherry Blossom Association developed a list of Japan’s Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots with at least one location in every prefecture.
In Japan, cherry blossoms also symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, besides being an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese cultural tradition that is often associated with Buddhistic influence, and which is embodied in the concept of mono no aware. The association of the cherry blossom with mono no aware dates back to 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality; for this reason, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic, and have often been utilized in Japanese art, magan, anime, and film, as well as at musical performances for ambient effect. There is at least one popular folk song, originally meant for the shakuhachi, bamboo flute, titled “Sakura,” and several pop songs. The flower is also represented on all manner of consumer goods in Japan, including kimono, stationery, and dishware.
The unwritten Samurai code of conduct, known as Bushido, held that the true warrior must hold loyalty, courage, veracity, compassion, and honor as important, above all else. An appreciation and respect of life was also imperative, as it added balance to the character of the Samurai. He was often very stoic with a deep and strong philosophical passion. He could be deadly in combat and yet so gentle and compassionate with children and the weak.
Zen Buddhism influenced them greatly giving them enlightenment for good judgment, personal growth, and self-awareness. Their exposure and immersion into philosophy and the arts expanded their perspectives and lifted them beyond the limits of their own feudal rule and culture. This is where Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct has its origins.
Bushido is the unwritten code of conduct of the Samurai. Literally, Bushido means “warrior – samurai – ways”. Bushi is a term for warrior, but directly infers a more prestigious or higher class warrior. It was the code of honour established by the ancient Japanese samurai, or noble knights who ruled Japan from the Middle Ages until as recently as 150 years ago. The samuraiwere hired mercenaries who were retained by wealthy lords or shogun to keep them in power and subdue the peasant population. They were possibly some of the fiercest fighters known throughout the history of human warfare.
The bushido code developed from a set of survival techniques into a code of deep philosophical principles that determined how the samurai would act in relation to their lords, their fellow samurai, and ultimately how they would behave in relation to each other. This set of rules, according to which the samurai would live their lives, was intrinsically tied up with the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, which was the religion followed majority of the warrior samurai.
But the samurai were a much more diverse group who generally backed those feudal lords who could maintain them in the most lavish way. Despite that, over the hundreds of years of their existence, they did develop a special code of behaviour not dissimilar to that of the legendary Arthurian knights of European history during the Middle Ages.
With the demise of feudal times, the samurai disbanded, but their skills and arts were maintained by samurai families who kept their traditions alive. Those families maintained the martial skills of their ancestors along with the samurai honour code, or bushido that bound the groups of samurai warriors in a single goal. Bushido, literally “way of the warrior”, included an awareness and practice of the following seven virtues:
Justice, Bravery, Benevolence, Politeness, Veracity, Honor and Loyalty.
The school bushido of samurai show respect by speaking and acting with courtesy. We treat others with dignity and honor the rules of our family, school and nation, this also extends to the reverence they have for the cherry trees. Respect yourself, and others will respect you.
This can be translated as propriety, good manners, politeness, rite, worship or an expression of gratitude.
The Sakura kaior Cherry Blossom Society was the name chosen by young officers within the Imperial Japanese Army in September 1930 for their secret society established with the goal of reorganizing the state along totalitarian as well as militaristic lines, via a military coup d’état if necessary.
During World War II, the cherry blossom was used to motivate the Japanese people, to stoke nationalism and militarism among the populace. Even prior to the war, they were used in propaganda to inspire “Japanese spirit,” as in the “Song of Young Japan,” exulting in “warriors” who were “ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter.” In 1932, poetry by Akiko Yosano urged Japanese soldiers to endure sufferings in China and compared the dead soldiers to cherry blossoms. Arguments that the plans for the Battle of Leyte Gulf, involving all Japanese ships, would expose Japan to serious danger if they failed, were countered with the plea that the Navy be permitted to “bloom as flowers of death.” The last message of the forces on Peleliu was “Sakura, Sakura” — cherry blossoms. Japanese pilots would paint them on the sides of their planes before embarking on a suicide mission, or even take branches of the trees with them on their missions. A cherry blossom painted on the side of the bomber symbolized the intensity and ephemerality of life; in this way, the aesthetic association was altered such that falling cherry petals came to represent the sacrifice of youth in suicide missions to honor the emperor. The first kamikaze unit had a subunit called Yamazakura or wild cherry blossom. The government even encouraged the people to believe that the souls of downed warriors were reincarnated in the blossoms.
In its colonial enterprises, imperial Japan often planted cherry trees as a means of “claiming occupied territory as Japanese space”.
Cherry blossoms are a prevalent symbol in Irezumi, the traditional art of Japanese tattoos. In tattoo art, cherry blossoms are often combined with other classic Japanese symbols like koi fish, dragons or tigers.
Japan has a wide variety of cherry blossoms, sakura; well over 200 cultivars can be found there. The most popular variety of cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino. Its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem. They bloom and usually fall within a week, before the leaves come out. Therefore, the trees look nearly white from top to bottom. The variety takes its name from the village of Somei (which is now part of Toshima in Tokyo). It was developed in the mid- to late-19th century at the end of the Edo period, and the beginning of the Meiji period. The Somei Yoshino is so widely associated with cherry blossoms that jidaigeki and other works of fiction often depict the variety in the Edo period or earlier; such depictions are anachronisms.
Winter sakura or fuyuzakura (Prunus subhirtella autumnalis) begins to bloom in the fall and continues blooming sporadically throughout the winter. It is said to be a cross between edohiganzakura, the Tokyo Higan cherry (P. incisa) and mamezakura (P. pendula).
Other categories include yamazakura, yaezakura, and shidarezakura. The yaezakura have large flowers, thick with rich pink petals. The shidarezakura, or weeping cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow, bearing cascades of pink flowers.
During World War II, a prisoner of war (POW) camp near the town of Cowra, located in New South Wales, Australia was the site of one of the largest prison escapes of the war, onAugust 5, 1944. During the Cowra breakout and subsequent rounding up of POWs, four Australian soldiers and 231 Japanese soldiers died and 108 prisoners were wounded. The Japanese War Cemetery holding the dead from the Breakout was tended to after WWII by members of the Cowra RSL and ceded to Japan in1963. In 1971 the Cowra Tourism Development decided to celebrate this link to Japan, and proposed a Japanese Garden for the town. The Japanese government agreed to support this development as a sign of thanks for the respectful treatment of their war dead; the development also received funding from the Australian government and private entities.
The garden was designed by Ken Nakajima (1914–2000), a world-renowned designer of Japanese gardens at the time. The first stage was opened in 1979, with a second stage opened in 1986.
The gardens were designed in the style of the Edo Period and are a kaiyū-shiki or strolling garden. They are designed to show all of the landscape types of Japan. At five hectares (12 acres), the Cowra Japanese Garden is the largest Japanese garden in the Southern Hemisphere. An annual cherry blossom festival is a major event in Cowra’s tourism calendar and is held in the gardens during September.
With the Japanese diaspora to Brazil, many immigrants brought seedlings of cherry trees. In the state of Sao Paulo, which is reported to be the home of the largest Japanese community outside Japan, it is common to find the trees in Japan related facilities and some homes, usually of the cultivars Prunus serrulata ‘Yukiwari’ and Prunus serrulata variationlannesiana ‘Himalaya’. In the Parana State, located in southern Brazil, many cities received many of these immigrants, who planted the trees, as in Apucarana, Maringa, Cascave and especially in the capital city of Curitiba.
In the capital city of Parana, the first seedlings were taken by Japanese immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, but began to be planted in large quantities from the 1990s, with the opening of the Curitiba’s Botanical Garden. Now the seedlings are produced by the city and used in afforestation of streets and squares – as in the Japanese Square, where have more than 30 cherry trees around the square sent by the Japanese Empire to Curitiba.
Vancouver is famous for its thousands of cherry blossom trees lining many streets and in many parks, including Queen Elizabeth Park as well as Stanley Park. Vancouver holds the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival every year. High Park in Toronto, Ontario features many Somei-Yoshino cherry trees (the earliest species to bloom and much loved by the Japanese for their fluffy white flowers) that were given to Toronto by Japan in 1959. Through the Sakura Project, the Japanese Embassy donated a further 34 cherry trees to High Park in 2001, plus cherry trees to various other locations like Exhibition Place, McMaster University, York University, and the University of Toronto’s main and Scarborough campuses. Niagara Falls also has many near the Falls itself.
The cherry trees naturally grow in China. However, the two most famous cherry blossom parks in China reflect Japan’s brief occupation of parts of China during the first half of the 20th century or the donation from Japan thereafter:
• Longwangtang Cherry Blossom Park in Lunshun, Dalian, Liaoning;
• East Lake Cherry Blossom Park near Wuhan University, in the Donghu District, Wuhan, Hubei;
• Nanshan Botanical Garden in Nan’an District, Chongqing.
The cherry blossom is a major tourist attraction in Germany’s Altes Land Orchard region. The largest Hanami in Germany, in Hamburg, with Japanese-style fireworks, organized by the German-Japanese society, draws tens of thousands spectators every spring.
In the year 2000, the Japan Women’s Club (JWC) donated 400 cherry blossom trees to the city of Amstelveen. The trees have been planted in the Cherry blossom park in the Amsterdamse Bos. A special detail is that every tree has a name — 200 trees have female Japanese names, 200 trees have female Dutch names.
Watching of cherry blossom was introduced to Korea during Japanese rule. The festivals continued even after the Japanese surrendered in WWII, but have been contentious, and many cherry trees have been destroyed because they were seen as symbols of the occupation. However, there has been considerable confusion about the origin of the cultivated Japanese cherry trees and the differences between them and native Korean trees.Certain trees at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, were cut down to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Japanese surrender in World War II. Although Cherry blossoms are already indigenous to Korea, Japan had planted trees on sacred and offensive locations in the Palace. Once the offending trees were cut down the festival continued with the indigenous trees. The cherry blossom festival at Gyeongbok Palace is one of a number of such festivals across Korea and is prominently advertised to tourists.
In 2005, Japanese cherry trees were presented by Japan to the Nezahat Gokyigit Botanical Garden in Istanbul, Turkey. Each tree represents one sailor of Ertugrul Frigate which was a famous frigate of the Ottoman/Turkish navy. She had encountered a typhoon on the way back from a goodwill visit to Japan in 1890. That heavy weather condition caused her to sink. That disaster resulted with unfortunate loss of 587 Ottoman/Turkish sailors. That unfortunate occurrence is being remembered in every anniversary. The Japanese Cherry Trees represent memory of those passed away and provide remembrance.
Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire, located in England, holds the national collection of Japanese village cherries, sato-sakura group. Keele University in Staffordshire, also in England, has one of the UK’s largest collections of flowering cherries, with more than 150 varieties.
Branch Broks Park in Newark, New Jersey is the oldest county park in the United States and is home the nation’s’ largest collection of cherry blossom trees, with about 4,300.
Balboa Park of San Diego has 2,000 cherry blossom trees that blossom in mid to late March. In Los Angeles, over 2,000 trees are located at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys. These trees were donated by an anonymous Japanese benefactor and were planted in 1992. They originated from a single parent tree and were developed to grow in warm climates.
Philadelphia is also home to over 2000 flowering Japanese cherry trees, half of which were a gift from the Japanese government in 1926 in honor of the 150th anniversary of American independence, with the other half planted by the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia between 1998 and 2007. Philadelphia’s cherry blossoms are located within Fairmont Park, and the annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia celebrates the blooming trees. Seattle’s University of Washington also has cherry blossoms in its Quad.
Other US cities have an annual Cherry Blossom Festival (or Sakura Matsuri), including the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia, which features over 300,000 cherry trees. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City also has a large, well-attended festival. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is the site of the peace conference that produced the Treaty of Portsmouth, for which the original Washington, DC cherry trees were given in thanks. Several cherry trees planted on the bank of the tidal pond next to Portsmouth City Hall were the gift of Portsmouth’s Japanese sister city of Nichinan the hometown of Marquis Komura Jutaro, Japan’s representative at the conference. Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, has 200 somei yoschino trees, a gift from its sister institution, Japan’s Chubu University.
Cherry blossoms and leaves are edible and both are used as food ingredients in Japan:
• The blossoms are pickled in salt and Umezu (Ume vinegar), and is used for coaxing out flavor in Wagashi, (a traditional Japanese confectionery,) or Anpan, (a Japanese sweet bun, most-commonly filled with red bean paste.)
• Salt-pickled blossoms in hot water is called Sakuray, and is drunk at festive events like weddings in place of Green tea.
• The leaves are mostly from the Oshima cherry because of the softness, are also pickled in salted water and used for Sakuramochi..
Since the leaves contain Coumarin, which is toxic in large doses, it is not recommended to eat them in great quantities.
Cherry Blossoms are some of the most beautiful flowers, coming in bright colors. The Cherry Blossom tree in full bloom, during the arrival of spring, is one of the most beautiful sights to behold.The Cherry Blossom is so popular that festivals are celebrated in its honor- the Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrated in the months of March and April.
The Cherry Blossom is Japan’s unofficial National Flower. Somei Yoshino is a favorite Cherry Blossom variety of the Japanese. The flowers are almostpure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem.
The Somei Yoshino Cherry Blossoms bloom, and usually fall within a week, before the leaves come out. The trees look nearly white from top to bottom. Other Cherry Blossom varieties include yamazakura, yaezakura, and shidarezakura. The yaezakura Cherry Blossom have large flowers, thick with rich pink petals.
The shidarezakura Cherry Blossom, or weeping Cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow, bearing cascades of pink flowers.
The Japanese Cherry starts flowering profusely from the first warmer days in April, heralding the coming of spring. The pink or white flowers grow in racemose clusters at nodes on short spurs. They are past flowering early in May.
The Cherries can be divided into three groups – the European, the American, and the Oriental. In general, the Oriental types (Prunus serrulata) are less hardy. This genus – Prunus comprises over 400 species and numerous cultivars of trees and shrubs growing in temperate climates mostly in the Northern Hemisphere.
It includes evergreen shrubs, flowering fruit trees, and all the stone fruits – almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, and prunes. They are also very ornamental.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual celebration in Washington, D.C., commemorating the March 27, 1912, gift to the city of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees from the Mayor of Tokyo to strengthen the growing friendship between the United States and Japan.
There are many events that are encompassed in this festival, such as a Kite Flying Contest, a marathon, Cherry Blossom parade and so much more.
Washington, DC welcomes the arrival of spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a tradition that showcases the beautiful gift of 3,000 cherry trees that the city of Tokyo gave to our nation’s capital. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual three-week, city-wide event featuring more than 200 international cultural performances and over 90 other special events. From arts and exhibits to cuisine and sports, there is something for everyone to enjoy!
The blossoming cherry trees symbolize the arrival of spring and brighten the area surrounding the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin with their vibrant pale pink and white flowers.
Cherry Blossoms are rooted deep in the culture of Japan and were used in ancient Japan to forecast how crops for the coming year would do. Modern Japan still celebrates Hanami – gatherings of friends to picnic under a canopy of Cherry Blossoms, enjoying the brief burst of the beauty of nature and springtime. Through the centuries, the Japanese have developed many different varieties of the Cherry tree. All of these trees bloom for a short time with pink or white flowers. Cherries are part of the rose family and like roses, most cherry trees bloom during the spring. A few varieties are grown to flower later and actually show their blossoms in autumn or even during winter! Normally, it is just a week to ten days before all of the blossoms are carried away by the wind.
Growing Cherry Blossoms
Cherries are propagated by budding them on seedling stocks in the nursery and are sold for planting stock as one or two-year-old trees. Sweet and Sour Cherries are fairly easy to grow. Sour Cherries, which are smaller and more tolerant of cold and heat, are easier to grow than sweet Cherries.
Sour cherries are self-pollinating so you don’t have to plant two kinds. Sour Cherries also bloom later, which makes them less vulnerable to harm from late spring frosts.
• Because of the fact that Cherry Blossom trees bloom early in spring and are susceptible to damage from late spring frosts, the site for growing Cherries should be slightly higher and sloped than the surrounding ground to prevent frosty air from settling in the low spots.
• Cherry Blossom trees should be placed in a sheltered location with full sun, in soil that is deep, fertile and moist, but well drained.
• Full sun exposure for Cherry Blossom trees is necessary to produce delicious Cherries and strong trees.
• Cherry Blossom trees grown in shade will produce spindly branches and fewer cherries that are less sweet.
• Sweet and sour Cherries are susceptible to most of the same problems.
Washington, DC Cherry Tree information
It took the coordination of many to ensure the arrival of the cherry trees. The first batch of 2,000 trees arrived diseased in 1910, but did not deter the parties. Between the governments of the two countries, coordination by Dr. JokichiTakamine, a world-famous chemist and the founder of Sankyo Co., Ltd. (today know as Daiichi Sankyo), Dr. David Fairchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Eliza Scidmore, first female board member of the National Geographic Society, and First Lady Helen Herron Taft, more than 3,000 trees arrived in Washington in 1912. In a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and ViscountessChinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.
Over the years, gifts have been exchanged between the two countries. In 1915, the United States Government reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. In 1981, the cycle of giving came full circle. Japanese horticulturists were given cuttings from the trees to replace some cherry trees in Japan which had been destroyed in a flood.
Since First Lady Taft’s involvement, the nation’s first ladies have been proponents of the Festival. Historically, many were involved in events through the National Conference of State Societies’ Princess Program. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower crowned Queen Janet Bailey in 1953, and in 1976 Betty Ford invited the princesses to the White House. In 1965, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 Yoshino trees from the government of Japan and held a tree planting reenactment. All first ladies in recent years have served as Honorary Chair, many participating as well. In 1999, First Lady Hillary Clinton took part in a tree planting ceremony. In 2001, First Lady Laura Bush greeted guests with remarks at the Opening Ceremony. Honorary Chair First Lady Michelle Obama was involved in 2012, planting a cherry tree in West Potomac Park among dignitaries and guests.
Today’s National Cherry Blossom Festival has grown from modest beginnings into the nation’s greatest springtime celebration. A group of American school children reenacted the initial planting and other activities, effectively holding the first “festival” in 1927. The festivities grew again in 1935, sponsored by civic groups in the nation’s capital. The Festival was expanded to two weeks in 1994 to accommodate a diverse activity schedule during the blooming period. Over the years, millions have participated in Festival events and viewed the flowering cherry trees. In 2012, the Festival expanded to five weeks (from 16 days in recent previous years) to provide a grand tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the gift of trees. Today, more than 1.5 million people visit Washington, DC each year to admire the blossoming cherry trees and participate in diverse programming that heralds spring in the nation’s capital.
Today the National Cherry Blossom Festival is coordinated by the National Cherry Blossom Festival Inc., an umbrella organization consisting of a coalition of business, civic, and governmental organizations. Since the National Park Service has been keeping records of the blooming dates, the earliest blooming date has been March 15, 1990, and the latest date was marked on April 18, 1958. The average blooming date–that time when the blooms are considered to reach their peak–is April 5 for the Yoshino and April 22 for the double flowering Kwansan trees, mostly seen in East Potomac Park.