Native to Japan, the Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) is cultivated extensively and is also found growing wild on plains and mountains countrywide. For more than ten centuries, and continuing with no less enthusiasm today, cherry blossom time has been cause for joyful celebration that is deeply integrated in the Japanese culture.
When cherry blossoms begin to fall heavily, the flurry of blossoms is called “cherry snowstorm.” The following is a traditional Japanese song that has been passed down for generations.
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms
As far as you can see.
Across yayoi skies
Is it mist? Is it clouds?
Ah, the fragrance!
Let us go, Let us go and see!
To see a cherry blossom snowstorm:
In the Japanese language the cherry is called “sakura,” which is generally believed to be a corruption of the word “sukuya” (blooming). Poets and artists strive to express the loveliness of its flowers in words and artistry. Called the flower of flowers, when the Japanese use the word “hane” (flower) it has come to mean sakura, and no other flower. Since the Heian period “hanami” has referred to cherry blossom viewing; the term was used to describe cherry blossom parties in the Tale of Gengi. Aristocrats wrote poetry and sang songs under the flowering trees for celebratory flower viewing parties. The custom soon spread to the samurai society and by the Edo period, hanami was celebrated by all people.
The delicacy and transience of the cherry blossom have poignant and poetic appeal, providing themes for songs and poems since the earliest times. The motif of the five petal cherry blossoms is used extensively for decorative arts designs, including kimonos, works in enamel, pottery, and lacquer ware. Cherry tree wood is valued for its tight grain and is a lustrous reddish brown when polished. The wood is used to make furniture, trays, seals, checkerboards, and woodblocks for producing color wood block prints.
In modern times the advent of the cherry blossom season not only heralds the coming of spring, but is also the beginning of the new school year and the new fiscal year for businesses. Today families and friends gather under the blooms and celebrate with picnicking, drinking, and singing. The fleeting beauty of the blossoms, scattering just a few days after flowering, is a reminder to take time to appreciate life. In the evening when the sun goes down, viewing the pale-colored cherry blossoms silhouetted against the night sky is considered an added pleasure of the season.
The tradition of celebrating cherry blossom season began in the United States when, on Valentine’s Day in 1912, Tokyo mayor Yukio Okaki gave the city of Washington, D.C., 3,000 of twelve different varieties of cherry trees as an act of friendship. First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador, Viscountess Chinda, planted the initial two of these first cherry trees in Potomac Park. Today cherry blossom festivals are celebrated annually not only in Wash- ington, D.C., but in Brooklyn, San Francisco, Seattle, and Macon, Georgia.
It is said that the true lover of cherry blossoms considers the season is at its height when the buds are little more than half open—for when the blossoms are fully opened there is already the intimation of their decline.