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Sakura: The Spirit of Japan

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Spring (or “haru”) heralds a very special time of year in Japan, and Tokyo is now in the height of this special time that Japanese hold close in their hearts. It’s sakura season, which means the symbolic and fleeting time when the cherry trees blossom and ohanami celebrations occur.

It’s actually a two month phenomenon as the blossoms open south to north, beginning in southern Kyushuu in early March and making their way north to Hokkaido in early May.

Sakura symbolize the fleeting impermanence of all life. They bloom in delicate beauty, inspiring emotions, and they leave just as fast. It’s all tentative. A big wind or heavy rain can take the blossoms away, much like nothing is certain in life. Japanese enjoy the beauty and inspiration while it is there, celebrating life and friendship. A big part of sakura time is “ohanami” where people set up camp and picnic under the trees, enjoying food, drink and music with close friends and strangers. It draws people closer together, if only for a short time, much like life does.

A few days ago, the Imperial family opened a section of Inui Dori on sacred palace grounds to the public to view nearly 100 sakura trees in full bloom. This first-time event is in celebration of Emperor Akihito’s 80th birthday.

There are sakura festivals in many places around the world. In the U.S., two of the better known places to are in Washington D.C. and New York’s Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gave 3,000 cherry trees to the nation’s capitol as a symbol of friendship between Japan and the United States. The trees were planted around D.C’s famed Tidal Basin, and most are still there, flowering in late March or early April when Washington D.C. holds the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the largest in the U.S. It’s a three-week event that welcomes spring while celebrating Japanese culture and the close ties the two countries have.

The beauty of the cherry blossoms remind us of how fragile and precious life is. We hope you have a chance to experience the fleeting beauty and the wonder of the festivals while reflecting on how precious life is.