Sakura and Hanami, what's the big deal?

With spring already arriving for several parts of the world, sakura trees are blooming with their blissful pink blossoms. Sakura is a term that is synonymous with Japan, and anime in general as a matter of fact. Scientifically speaking, the cherry blossom is the flower of a family of trees, particularly the Japanese Cherry, which is more commonly known and referred to as sakura, after the Japanese 桜 or 櫻; さく. With that being said, what makes the sakura tree so special, and what exactly is Hanami?


Hanami (花見) is a term that literally means “flowering viewing”. It’s a centuries-old practice and a traditional custom which involves picnicking under a blooming sakura tree, although the term hanami also can refer to simply admiring the beauty of the blooming flowers. Sakura trees bloom from the end of March to early May, all over Japan. Every year, a blossom forecast (桜前線), or sakura zensen, is announced by the weather bureau. This tradition of flower viewing began during the Nara Period, which lasted from 710 to 794, when ume blossoms were the flowers people originally enjoyed. Nowadays in modern day Japan, hanami essentially involves having a lively gathering, or a party underneath a sakura tree. Interestingly enough, hanami that is held at night is referred to as yozakura (夜桜), literally meaning night sakura.


In Japan, the blossoming typically begins in Okinawa in January, and moves down to Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April, then proceeding to higher altitudes and northwards to Hokkaido a few weeks later. These sakura zensen is paid close to by the Japanese people, who gather at shrines, parks, and temples with friends and family to hold parties.


Sakura blossoms play a significant role in Japanese cultural tradition. Sakura blossoms, being a ubiquitous symbol of Japan, symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, and represent an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. Also, a more easily understandable concept involves the absolute yet short-lived beauty of the blossoms, which has often been associated with mortality. It is for this reason that sakura blossoms and themes associated with these intricate flowers are used in a wide variety of Japanese media, such as anime, even at musical performances for ambient effect. During the Second World War, the sakura served as a motivating symbol for the Japanese people, with Japanese kamikaze pilots painting sakura blossoms on the sides of their aircraft before embarking on a suicide mission. The government encouraged citizens to believe the souls of those lost were reincarnated as sakura blossoms.

There are a wide variety of sakura blossom species, with the most popular and widely recognized species being the one that possesses nearly pure white flowers, known as somei-yoshino (染井吉野) , tinged with the palest pink near the stem. Other varieties have different colours and flower appearances, but the most popular is still the somei-yoshino.


Now, many may be wondering, what significance do sakura blossoms hold in manga and anime? It’s definitely not uncommon to see sakura trees featured in a manga or anime series. Probably one of the most well-known sakura-themed series is Card Captor Sakura, where the sakura tree served as the backdrop of several romantic scenes between Toya and Ms. Mizumi. Kinomoto Sakura, the main character of the series is quite appropriately named after the sakura blossoms, signifying romance and rebirth. Of course, Sakura is a rather common name, also featured in several well-known shows.


Living in Vancouver BC, where sakura trees are aplenty, it's easy to take advantage of the beautiful blooming pink flowers scattered all across the city. There's even a Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, letting us Vancouverites get a taste of what it's like to celebrate the blooming of the sakura trees, Japanese-style.

Being a big fan of sakura blossoms, I can safely say that I'd love to plant one in my front yard one day. My childhood home which I'm no longer in had a large sakura tree right in the front yard, and I definitely miss its beauty and pristine elegance when spring comes. So there you have it, that's the big deal.

1 comment:

  1. Too bad the sakura came out the week after I left Japan. Orz