The annual blossoming of the cherries in Japan is a beautiful phenomenon that has formed a valuable part of Japanese culture for centuries. The cherry blossom (sakura) is the countries unofficial flower and there are dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring.
Each year the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public track the sakura zensen, or cherry-blossom front, as it moves northward up the archipelago. It’s so important to the people here that not only is the cherry blossom depicted on the 100 yen coin, but nightly forecasts of where the cherries are in flower follows the weather segments on news programs. The Japanese pay close attention to these forecasts and turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines, and temples, along with family and friends, to hold flower-viewing parties, called hanami.
The blossoming begins in January at Okinawa and typically reaches Tokyo at the end of March, before progressing into the higher altitudes and finally reaching Hokkaido in late April.
The transience of the blossoms, the great beauty and rapid death, has often been associated with mortality. For this reason, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic. During World War II, they were used to motivate the Japanese people. Pilots would paint them on the sides of their planes before embarking on a suicide mission, or even take branches of the trees with them on their flights. The falling cherry petals later came to represent the sacrifice of youth in suicide missions to honor the emperor.
You’ll see the flowers outside of most schools and public buildings, and loads of people with cameras gathering around them. But the event is short lived, lasting a couple of weeks in each location, because as soon as there’s a strong wind, the delicate petals fall to the ground.
When: Jan – March
Where: Across Japan