Japanese Cherry Blossoms: Meaning, Symbolism, and More
With the warmer months of spring right around the corner, this is a fitting time of year to think about fresh starts. As flowers begin to bloom and plants emerge from dormancy, we are reminded that even the coldest and darkest of nights come to an end.
In Japan, spring denotes the peak blooming season for the ever-popular cherry blossom—the country's national flower. If you're looking for some inspiration to embark on a new journey or embrace a fresh start this spring, perhaps you could learn a thing or two from the Japanese cherry blossom.
In this post, we'll explain the significance and symbolism of the cherry blossom, as well as how it relates to other springtime holidays and observances. From there, we'll explore some of the many ways you can celebrate the start of spring and other Japanese cultural holidays, regardless of your own cultural background.
The Meaning of Sakura
Specifically, Sakura is the Japanese term for "bloom," referring specifically to the genus prunus species of tree (cherry blossom). Throughout the majority of the year, cherry blossom flowers remain dormant. However, during the beginning of springtime in Japan, these trees bloom into beautiful shades of pink and white all across the country.
From there, the cherry blossoms remain in full bloom for typically just a week or two before they begin to fall from the trees.
Symbolism of the Cherry Blossom
While cherry blossoms are a joy to look at during their peak bloom, their beauty does not last. In Japanese culture, there is a lot of metaphorical meaning tied to these little blossoms. Many believe the cherry blossom bloom to be a metaphor for how beautiful yet fleeting life can be.
Likewise in Japan, cherry blossoms are typically blooming around the same time children are starting school. This is another way in which their blooms are thought to symbolize fresh starts and optimism for the future.
Hanami, Vernal Equinox Day, and More
As you can now imagine, the time of cherry blossom blooming in Japan is a very contemplative time. It's also a time of celebration. In fact, Japan has its own holiday dedicated to "flower viewing," known as Hanami. During this time (between mid-March and early May), many people hold special picnics, festivals, and gatherings with family and loved ones. It is customary to gather underneath and around blooming cherry blossoms with food and drink to admire the blooms and spend quality time with family and/or friends.
In addition to Hanami, other holidays, such as Vernal Equinox Day, are celebrated widely across Japan. During Vernal Equinox Day (which falls on March 21), the official end of winter and start of spring is celebrated. In Japan, this celebration means taking the time to remember ancestors as well as celebrating the nature of living things as warmer weather emerges.
In Japanese culture, Hanami and Vernal Equinox Day are just two of 16 national holidays that are celebrated each year. Some other notable Japanese holidays include:
- Showa Day
- Greenery Day
- Mountain Day
- Respect for the Aged Day
Celebrate Hanami Your Own Way
Depending on where you live in the United States, you may actually be fortunate enough to see cherry blossoms in bloom this spring. One of the most popular United States locations to view Sakura is in Washington D.C., where approximately 3,000 cherry blossoms gifted from Japan were planted in March of 1912. Today, people gather from far and wide to view the blooms of these trees in the early springtime.
In addition to Washington D.C., there are some other locations across the United States where you can view cherry blossoms. Some destinations include:
- Portland, Oregon (Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the Portland Japanese Garden)
- Dallas, Texas (The Arboretum)
- Seattle, Washington (University of Washington Quad)
- Philadephia, Pennsylvania (Fairmount Park)
- Traverse City, Michigan (Highway M-37)
If you live in an area where you can see cherry blossoms for yourself, you might consider partaking in your own Hanami celebration to signify the beginning of spring and the welcoming of fresh starts. You could, for example, host your own Hanami party with family and/or close friends. Choose a location where you can see the blossoms in bloom, pack up a picnic lunch, and spend the afternoon sitting under the trees with loved ones. Just be sure to clean up after yourselves and dress appropriately for early spring weather (which can be unpredictable).
Even if you don't live in an area where you can see cherry blossoms in-person, you can still celebrate by visiting a local park and admiring other aspects of nature. From tulips emerging from the ground after a cold winter to trees starting to bud, there's a lot to appreciate about nature in the spring.
Bloom Like a Cherry Blossom This Spring
Taking the time to slow down and appreciate the changes that the Earth goes through during the spring equinox can set the tone for a more peaceful and productive season. Whether you live in an area where you can admire the iconic Japanese cherry blossoms or not, you can find ways to celebrate nature and set some intentions for the coming months.