The cherry blossom is the flower of
flowers to the Japanese people. It is a native flower, and the blossoms
have been loved more than 10 centuries. The people love to see not only
the single petal cherry blossoms in their prime and freshness, they also
relish the beauty of falling snowy petals in the spring breeze. Of all
flowers, the cherry blossoms appeal most to the aesthetic taste of the
Japanese people. The Japanese people would never have been essentially
so jubilant, cheerful, optimistic and youthful were it not for the
beauty of the cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms have been the theme of
songs and poems since time immemorial, and have played an important role
in molding the Japanese character. So universal is their appeal to the
moral and aesthetic taste of the race that they are constantly used as
motifs on kimonos, lacquerware, pottery and other decorative items.
Beautiful as it is in bloom, the Japanese
cherry tree does not yield fruit like other cherry trees. A critic once
remarked that the Japanese cherry does not have to produce a market crop
because it is a born aristocrat and its single mission is to be
beautiful. But it does render a very useful service to the Japanese
The wood of the cherry tree is used for
many purposes. It is from this wood that seals, wood blocks for
producing color prints, checker boards, tables, trays, ornamental
columns for alcoves and all sorts of ornaments and furniture are made.
The bark is a deep brown hue and lustrous when polished. It is used as
veneer for making fancy art boxes, cigarette cases and the like.
The double petal blossoms are preserved
in salt for making a refreshing drink by floating a few blossoms in a
cup of hot water. The beverage is called akura-yu, or cherry hot water.
It is served on felicitous occasions such as the first meeting of a
would-be bride and groom. During Girl's Doll Festival in Ilarch,
confectioners carry a stock of sakura mochi, a dumpling containing sweet
bean paste wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf.
For those about to experience their first
Cherry Blossom Spring in Japan, I urge you to get out and see them in
full bloom in the parks, a truly magnificent sight. Be careful as you
stroll, however, so as to avoid the unsightly litter that infests the
paths. In spring there always seems to be more trash due to the cherry
blossom viewing parties, a lovely custom that brings families and
friends together to marvel at the yearly renewal of nature. Picnic
baskets and sake are part of the scene. As the rice wine flows, you will
observe drunks, mainly a harmless lot. Their worst offense seems to be
using the world as their private bedroom and inconveniencing the public
by hogging the seating on trams and trains. And there are noisier ones,
perhaps less tipsy who suddenly spy a foreigner and insist on striking
up an unintelligible conversation.
For information about cherry blossoms,
bulletin boards are set up in all train stations showing places, dates,
and extent of blossoming. Drawings indicate buds, partial blooming, half
blooms, and petals falling. We suggest a trip to Kosanji at Setoda where
there are 700 cherry trees, returning via Senkoji park at onomichi where
10,000 trees bloom.
The Cherry as the National Flower of Japan
The cherry is called in the Japanese language "sakura,"
which is generally believed to be a corruption of the word "sakuya"
(blooming) from the name of Princess Kono-hana-sakuya-Hime, who is
enshrined on the top of Mt. Fuji. This long name literally means
"tree-flowers-blooming-princess," for the cherry was so well
known in those early days in Japan that the flower meant nothing but the
cherry. This princess was so named because, it is said, she dropped from
heaven upon a cherry tree. Hence, the cherry blossom is considered to be
the national flower of Japan.
The cherry is extensively cultivated in Japan, though
it grows wild on plains and in deep mountains in the country. When forty
or fifty years old, it is some thirty of forty feet high, with a trunk
three, four, or even six or eight feet in circumference.
The cherry symbolizes the national character of the
Japanese. This is because the life of a samurai of feudal times was
proverbially compared to the short-lived cherry-blossoms, which last
"no more than three days," for our samurai was always fully
prepared to sacrifice his life at any time in the cause of his master.
Another saying is that what "the cherry is among flowers is the
samurai among men."
The Japanese are proud of their sakura, because no
other people have it. Sakura is quite different from the cherry of other
countries. To differentiate it from the fruit bearing varieties seen in
many countries, Japanese sakura are called Japanese Flowering Cherry in
Thus, it is quite natural that the blossom has become
the national flower of the country, and since very early days, the
people have expressed their love and admiration of the flower in various
ways; poets and artists have always been eager to depict the loveliness
of the blossom in words and colors. Sakura is called the flower of
flowers, and when the Japanese use the word 'hana' (flower), it means
sakura. Hanami (flower viewing) means the viewing of sakura blossoms and
no other flowers.
There are many varieties of sakura with blossoms of
different tints and different blooming time. In the southern warmer
region it blooms earlier than in the northern area. So if one starts
viewing sakura in Southern Kyushu in the middle of March, and proceeds
northward enjoying the blossom, he will end up in Hokkaido in May.
The blooming period of sakura is very short, and in a
few days the flower is scattered away in the spring breeze. So the
people are long accustomed to stop their daily work or close up their
shops to have sakura viewing picnics at the best -and convenient places.
It is the merriest occasion of the year, with drinks, music and song. On
the other hand, some persons prefer to enjoy the blossom quietly and
leisurely, and select remote mountain or seashore regions which are not
frequented by many people.
The fruit of sakura is small and not edible, but the
wood of the tree is very valuable. It is tightly arained and hard, and
makes good furniture and fixtures. In old days, sakura wood was used in
making printing blocks for books and pictures.
Sakura blossoms are preserved in salt. When the
preserved flowers are put in hot water, it makes a fragrant and
delightful drink. It is beautiful too, as the salted blossoms open up in
the cup of hot water. This drink may be served at any time, but
particularly it is customary to serve it at wedding ceremony and
parties. Traditionally the people do not serve tea on such occasions, as
'chakasu' (turn to tea) means 'to turn everything to a jest.' So the
serving of tea at a wedding ceremony may become an omen to turn the
marriage into a sad failure. So Sakurayu or Sakura-tea is served in
prayer for the happiness of the newly wed.
Sakura trees are planted on mountain sides, parks and
gardens and most notably along many river embankments. When the
blossoming season comes, these trees on winding river embankments turn
into gorgeous belts of blossoms extending many miles. It is said,
ancient people started to plant sakura trees on river banks, so that
people would be lured to come and their walking on the embankments would
solidly pack the earth to make it strong enough to withstand the
flooding water in autumn.