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Cherry Blossoms at Yoshino

Cherry Blossoms at Yoshino, by Katsushika Hokusai, c.1833.

Pretty in Pink: Cherry Blossom in Japan

A history of the country’s love affair with the cherry blossom.

The cherry blossom tree is one of the most evocative images of Japan. Each spring, Japanese meteorologists report feverishly on the progress of the great blooming of pink, as the whole country seems to relax in the presence of ephemeral beauty. The Japanese have a deep bond with the sakura (cherry blossom), and the hanatni (viewing parties) are just one element in a long tradition of appreciation, although the participants and their activities have changed somewhat over the centuries. Today, parties still gather under the spreading blossoms, imbibing sake in celebration of the changing seasons.

The first literary references to sakura appear in the two oldest surviving classical books of Japanese history: Kojiki (The Records of Ancient Matters') and Nihon Shaki (the 'Chronicles of Japan), eighth century tomes that blur mythology and factual record. Hanami gained wider prominence through the Heian period (794-1 185), the golden age of the Japanese court, following a period of cultural plagiarism from China. This connection produced initial infatuation with the plum blossom (Ume), but soon shifted to Japan's native sakura, not least because the later blooming of this tree was more conducive to outdoor gatherings.

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