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Cherry Blossoms

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Cherry Blossom

The cherry blossom (sakura) is Japan's unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and takes a very prominent position in Japanese culture.

There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The Japanese celebrate that time of the year with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the blooming trees.

Hanami literally means "flower viewing", however, it commonly refers only to cherry blossom viewing. Cherry blossom viewing is easy: Simply enjoy the intensity of the many blossoms by looking at a single tree or a group of trees. From a distance, the trees appear as beautiful clouds, while the beauty of single blossoms can be enjoyed from a close distance.

Cherry blossoms are also especially beautiful in combination with a castle, temple or shrine. In some places the blossoms are lit up in the evening, which makes an amazing sight.

Hanami can be just a stroll in the park, but it traditionally also involves a picnic party under the blooming trees. Hanami parties have been held in Japan for many centuries, and today are held in public and private gardens and parks across the country. Famous cherry blossom spots can get very crowded, and the best picnic spots are hardly fought after.

In especially popular places it is common practice to reserve a picnic spot long before the party is held. The typical praxis is to spread one's picnic sheet early in the morning and either mark it with the group's name and party's starting time or to have somebody positioned there during the whole day until the rest of the group arrives after work.

When do they bloom?

The most important factor that determines the blooming time of cherry trees is the geographical location. Basically, the milder the climate, the earlier the blossoms open.

On Japan's southern, subtropical islands of Okinawa, cherry blossoms open as early as January, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, they bloom as late as May. In most major cities in between, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place around the end of March and beginning of April (see table below).

Furthermore, the blooming time differs from year to year depending on the weather. If the weather during the months and weeks preceding the cherry blossom season is mild, blossoms will open early. If it is cold, blossoms will open later. From year to year, the start of the blooming season can vary by as much as plus/minus two weeks.

How long do they bloom?

The cherry blossom season is relatively short. Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms (kaika). Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees. Strong wind and rain can cut the blooming season even shorter.

Cherry blossom forecasts

Every year, the Meteorological Agency and the media is closely following the so called "cherry blossom front", as it slowly moves northern wards. Note, that the front indicates the opening of the first blossoms (kaika) rather than the arrival of full bloom (mankai).

Of course, not every tree in a city opens on the same day, as trees in shadowy places, for example, bloom several days later than trees in sunny places. That is, why a set of representative sample trees is selected to define the date of kaika (the opening of the first blossoms) for a whole city. In Tokyo, the sample trees are located at Yasukuni Shrine.

Average blooming dates

The dates below indicate the average dates on which cherry trees open their first blossoms for selected cities, and the dates on which they opened in 2003 and 2004. Remember that full bloom is usually reached within about one week from the date the first blossoms have opened.

City

Average Year

Year 2005

Year 2004

Sapporo

May 5

May 10

May 5

Hakodate

May 3

May 1

April 26

Sendai

April 12

April 14

April 7

Tokyo

March 28

March 31

March 18

Yokohama

March 28

April 2

March 18

Nagoya

March 28

March 31

March 23

Takayama

April 16

April 17

April 10

Kanazawa

April 6

April 7

March 28

Kyoto

March 31

April 2

March 24

Osaka

March 30

April 3

March 23

Nara

April 1

April 2

March 25

Kobe

March 30

April 3

March 26

Hiroshima

March 29

April 3

March 19

Takamatsu

March 30

April 1

March 24

Matsuyama

March 28

April 1

March 19

Fukuoka

March 26

March 29

March 17

Kumamoto

March 24

April 1

March 24

Kagoshima

March 26

April 3

March 29

Naha

January 19

January 19

January 17

The data is according to the Japan Meteorological Agency and refers to Somei Yoshino cherry trees, except in the case of Sapporo (Ezoyamazakura) and Naha (Hikanzakura).

A large majority of cherry trees in Japan are of the Somei Yoshino and Yamazakura varieties. But in total, over one hundred cherry tree varieties can be found in Japan.

There are several characteristics that differ between the various cherry tree varieties. Some of the obvious ones, that can also be easily recognized by beginners, are listed below:

Number of petals:
Most wild trees, but also a lot of cultivated tree varieties have blossoms with five petals. However, some species have blossoms which consist of more than five petals, such as ten, twenty or more. Trees with blossoms of more than five petals are called yaezakura.


5 petals
(e.g. Oshimazakura)


about 20 petals
(e.g. Ichiyo)


about 100 petals
(e.g. Kikuzakura)

Color of the blossoms:
Most varieties produce lightly pink to pure white blossoms, but there are also cherry trees with dark pink or slightly yellowish blossoms. The color of the blossoms of some varieties is also changing while they are in bloom, from white to pink, for instance.


white blossoms
(e.g. Shogetsu)


pink blossoms
(e.g. Kanzan)


yellowish blossoms
(e.g. Ukon)

Note: Talking to flowers is dangerous to others health...Note: Talking to flowers is dangerous to others health...Note: Talking to flowers is dangerous to others health...