Sakura (Cherry blossoms) (サクラ)

Sakura is the generic name of the Genus Cerasus of Rosaceae, excluding apricots and peaches, and refers to plants belonging to Subgenus Cerasus. It is one of the most famous flowers in Japan.

Outline

Cherry blossoms have attracted Japanese people since ancient times, by the white, rose pink, dark pink petals in the spring.

There are 10 natural kinds of cherry blossoms including Yamazakura, Oshimazakura, Edohigan. There are a lot of cultivated varieties which were developed to improve the number and colors of petals and appearance of flowers and how it blooms. Among them, the cultivated varieties of Yamazakura are collectively called Satozakura and those of double- flowered kinds are called Yaezakura. Especially Someiyoshino, which was developed in the late Edo period, has spread widely throughout the country since the Meiji period and been a typical cherry tree in Japan. In Japan more than 600 kinds of both endemic species and hybrids grow wild.

In ancient times, Yamazakura (P. jamasakura) in mountains and double-flowered cherry blossoms were common. The famous cherry trees in Mt. Yoshino are also Yamazakura. In Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture, there is Kariyado no Gebazakura, the oldest Yamazakura in Japan, which has been designated as a special Japanese national treasure. There are also Nihon Godai Zakura (the five major cherry trees in Japan) which have lived long time and been famous.

The fruits are edible and the blossoms and leaves pickled in salt are also used as food.

Because it is the most familiar blossom for the Japanese people, it is considered one of the national flowers in general (not defined by law), and since the Meiji period the crests of cherry blossom have been attached to army and school caps and also used as badges of rank. Presently it is still used as the crests of the police and the Self-Defense Forces and others.

The 100 yen coin depicts cherry blossoms on its front side.

March 27th is Sakura Day, as defined by Japan Cherry Blossom Association in 1992.

The origin of the name

According to an explanation, Sakura derives from 'Saku' (bloom) and 'Ra' of plural ending and originally referred to all plants which had dense flowers. According to another explanation, sa of sakura derives from Sa, the god of rice plant and kura from Kura, the seat on which the god descends when the god comes to villages in the spring.

Also it is said that 'sakura' derives from 'sakuya' of a goddess, Konohana no sakuyabime, who sowed seeds of flowers from the top of Mt. Fuji and caused them to bloom.

Features

The times of flowering of cherry blossoms differ according to the species, but they bloom in mid-March at the earliest and in mid-May at the latest. Yamazakura is in bloom until late March, Someiyoshino until early April, Yaezakura until mid-April and Kasumizakura until early May.

Especially it is seen obviously in Someiyoshino that cherry blossoms open before the leaves come. As for the period of time of flowering, 'Someiyoshino' which is especially popular for Hanami (flower viewing) is shortest and the flowers fall only one week after the full bloom. Also temperatures and rains affect the period of time of flowering. If cold weather returns in the season of cherry blossoms, the cooled flowers live longer and if it rains after blooming, they fall earlier. In school grounds of elementary and other schools, Yaezakura trees are often planted along with Someiyoshino, because Yaezakura is in bloom longer than Someiyoshino, therefore people can see the flowers at the time of entrance into schools.

The cherry blossoms in the period from falling flowers and coming of new leaves until early summer or later are called Hazakura (cherry tree in leaf). The leaves of Genus Cerasus are mostly oval with serrated edges. Many of these leaves also have fine hairs on their surfaces. The leaves of cherry trees turn to fall colors in the autumn.

If a cherry tree is harmed, it can easily begin to decay from the damaged area. A proverb 'The fools who cut cherry trees, the fools who don't cut plum trees' derives from this property of cherry trees. Cherry trees are often weakened when visitors break off twigs and branches at flower viewing parties. If a tree has too many branches, it can be grown back by proper pruning. In Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture, Someiyoshino was successfully recovered by applying the pruning technique for apple trees. At pruning, unnecessary branches should be cut from the bases and the cut ends should be disinfected and protected by protective materials.

Many kinds of cherry trees send out tillers.

There are relatively easily denatured kinds such as Edohigan, Yamazakura, Oshimazakura, which were therefore used often for improvements of species, along with the development of horticultural technology. The representative example is Someiyoshino, which has the characteristics of both Oshimazakura and Edohigan. Also, mutation of cherry blossoms of a twig is sometimes seen in Yamazakura and others, and the cutting is planted or grafted as a new variety. Presently more than 600 kinds, including both endemic species and hybrids, grow wild.

In Japan three major cherry trees have lived longer than a thousand years. Healthy cherry trees bloom beautifully even when they become old.

Cherry blossoms in Japan

It is the most popular and beloved flower in Japan. Cherry blossoms often reach full bloom before the leaves are all out.
It is assumed that people found the strong life force in the trees which 'bloomed in where nothing is.'

A symbol of spring

Japanese people are familiar with cherry blossoms as a symbol of spring, which signify the coming of spring when they bloom all together at the beginning of spring. It is also a season word in haiku, and the blossom forecasts and prompt reports are signals of the coming of spring for Japanese people.. Also, cherry trees have been planted in many schools as a spring flower which boosts the mood of the entering ceremony. It is the spring season for Japanese people when cherry blossoms are in bloom. After all the kinds of cherry blossoms finish falling throughout the country, it becomes late spring and the summer comes.

Pronoun for flowers

"Kojiki" and "Nihonshoki", the oldest history books in Japan include the descriptions of cherry blossoms, and also "Manyoshu", the oldest anthology of waka poems includes poems of the blossoms. Until the Heian period, 'flower' meant 'plum blossom' in waka poems, but since the Heian period it has meant 'cherry blossom' along with the increasing popularity of cherry blossoms.

These flowers in Naniwazu weren't out in the winter, but now in the spring they are in bloom (by Wani)
The 'flowers' of the poem refer to plum blossoms.

In this calm and peaceful spring sun, the flowers are falling without calm mind (by KI no Tomonori)
The 'flowers' of the poem refer to cherry blossoms.

While refined and tasteful things have been called 'Kachofugetu' (flowers, birds, wind and moon), since the Heian period 'flower' has naturally referred to cherry blossoms in Japan. Since then, cherry blossoms have appeared in many waka poems.

It is famous that monk Saigyo, a poet in the Heian period, loved the moon and flowers (cherry blossoms). The following poem is famous among those written by monk Saigyo.

I wish to die under the flowers in the spring, around the day of full moon in February. There is a legend that he died in the situation just like the poem.

The saying 'Cherry blossom is the best among flowers and samurai is the best among people' was established by the Edo period, indicating that the image of Japanese people that 'Flower' means 'Cherry blossom' had been established before that.

In waka and haiku

As mentioned above, it was often written in waka poems as a symbol of spring and pronoun for flower, and also in haiku world it has been used as a season word of spring from long ago.

Basho MATSUO, the most famous haiku poet, wrote the following poem in the spring of 1688 thinking of the days during which he had served.

Cherry blossoms remind me of my past with various memories.

The symbol of Japanese spirit

Norinaga MOTOORI, a scholar of ancient Japanese thought and culture, wrote a poem 'What is Japanese spirit? It is Yamazakura blossoms in the morning sun' as the concrete example of Japanese spirit of 'Mono no aware' (graceful, tasteful, sad feeling). Also in the Meiji period Inazo NITOBE wrote in the opening sentence of his book "Bushido" that bushido (Chivalry) is like cherry blossoms which symbolize Japan.

Blossom forecast

Annually the Meteorological Agency announces the coming of spring by 'the flowering dates of cherry blossoms' which are generally connected with line in a map called 'Sakura Zensen' (cherry blossom front). The flowering dates are of Someiyoshino except in the Nansei Islands and the large part of Hokkaido. In each area a specified cherry tree is observed as the standard tree. Using those trees, the flowering dates are determined by various evaluations considering the temperatures measured in the winter and forecast temperatures in the spring. When five or six buds of a standard tree begin to burst, the flowering is announced, which is called 'Kaika Sengen' (declaration of flowering) by the mass media.

The standard tree of Tokyo is a specified one in Yasukuni-jinja Shrine. Which tree is the one is not disclosed, to maintain the careful forecast. In recent years, especially the mass media tends to pay attention to the flowering, and multiple media representatives often come to see the observations of the staff and to gather information during the season. It is sometimes reported from moment to moment such as the beginning of blooming, one-third in bloom, half in bloom, three-quarter in bloom, full in bloom, starting to fall.

It is rare worldwide to report the situation of a tree point by point.

Viewing the blossoms

Among flowering plants, viewing cherry blossoms are exceptionally called 'Kano' in some cases. The view of cherry blossoms is so popular and therefore cherry trees are planted in many places. They are often planted in streets, parks, gardens, river locations, etc. Theya re often planted along a street or river making a row, which makes a flower scene all around. They are also often planted in school fields. There are also a lot of shrines and temples which have grown cherry trees since ancient times. However, it is difficult to keep a cherry tree well because of the damages from pests and diseases and it grows up tall, so it is not so often planted as a garden tree.

In the spring in Japan, people gather under blooming cherry trees to hold a party. A famous place for flower viewing and party is called the sight of cherry blossoms. Along with the custom of flower viewing, there are the sights of cherry blossoms all over the country. Some organizations which have cherry trees such as shrines and temples often hold cherry blossom festivals.

For food

Some ornamental cherry trees also produce red fruits, but they are generally not eaten. The edible cherry fruit commonly called 'Sakuranbo' comes from Seiyomizakura, a western species which is also called 'Oto,' although 'Oto' originally refers to Shinamizakura, which is a different species from Seiyomizakura.

Pickled cherry blossoms in salt give a unique aroma and they are added on Japanese sweets and bean-jam buns as a kind of herb.

Salt-pickled blossoms are open in a cup of tea or hot water and drunk at festive events. Sakurayu (salt-pickled blossoms in hot water) is often drunk at events such as weddings and formal marriage meetings in place of green tea, to avoid the situation of 'Ocha o nigosu' (making tea turbid – evading the point). Sakuramochi (Japanese sweets consisting of pink rice cake and red bean paste) are wrapped with cherry leaves pickled in salt.

Other uses

Cherry blossom motif is often used for school badges of elementary and junior high schools and commercial high schools, and also for the crests of the police and the Self-Defense Forces and others.

Cherry trees are sometimes used as lumber. It is used for Kabazaiku (handiworks made of cherry tree) such as accessory boxes and tea leaf boxes, and also for printing blocks. It is also often used as wood smoking chips. The bark is able to be stripped off in a horizontal direction and the grayish and shiny surface is so beautiful to be used for the surface of wooden handicrafts.

In addition, the bark is used as herbal cough and expectorant medicine called Ohi and also as dye. For dye the bark of time of bloom is used. It dyes materials in light pink.

Cherry blossoms in Japan

The following groups almost correspond to subgenera.

Yamazakura group

Species belonging to Yamazakura. It is distributed throughout the Japanese islands and the Korean Peninsula. The leaves and blossoms open out at the same time.

Edohigan group

Species belonging to Edohigan.

There are three lineages - Edohigan distributed in Japan, and distributed in the Korean Peninsula since it had brought from Japan, Mushazakura distributed in Taiwan, P.changyangensis Ingram distributed in China - all with spherical swell at the lower part of the calyx.

There are a lot of cultivated varieties of Shidarezakura, because the unique shapes have attracted people.

Edohigan (Tachihigan, Azumahigan, Ubahigan) which is in bloom around the spring equinox.
It is one of the longest-lived species and many of them are designated as a precious natural treasure, including 'Ishiwarizakura' and 'Jindaizakura.'

Mamezakura group

Species belonging to Mamezakura. There are two major lineages – Mamezakura and Takanezakura. It grows up low or less than 10m high and produces black fruits. The leaf features indented biserrate margins.

Chojizakura group

Species belonging to Chojizakura. It grows up low or less than 10m high and is often seen in snowy regions. Among its features, when a pressed leaf is made, the bud turns yellow.

Hikanzakura group

Species belonging to Hikanzakura. The wild species include Tooka in China and Himarayazakura in Tibet, which blooms with red petals during the months of January and March.

Miyamazakura group

Species belonging to Miyamazakura.

Five varieties centered in southwestern China and one variety in Japan are distributed, but those from Japan and China are considered different varieties. It grows up low or less than 10m high or higher and many of them have fine hairs when they are young.

Shinamizakura group

Species belonging to Shinamizakura.

Seven varieties are distributed in southwestern China.

Kobukuzakura

Shinamizakura which is called 'Oto' in China. There are probably various species which have red or yellow ball or egg shaped fruits, but all of them are considered Shinamizakura. The fruits are edible and the twigs, leaves, and bark are used as natural medicine.

Taizanfukun

Tokaizakura, which is cultivated for cut flowers actively by flower growers near Hanamiyama-koen park in Fukushima City. The time of bloom is about 7 to 10 days earlier than Someiyoshino and it is very beautiful in full bloom.

Hokizakura

Satozakura group

It is assumed to have been created from Oshimazakura, Yamazakura, and others, and the line of species are all called Satozakura and the species belonging to Satozakura are called Satozakura group. Also cultivated varieties developed by human-beings are all called Satozakura in some cases. Satozakura group is created from different groups of cherry trees and therefore it is considered to not belong to any group.

Others

Inuzakura and Uwamizuzakura of Genus Cerasus are also named sakura, but they have small spicate flowers which are very different from cherry blossoms.