Despite the weather in Newcastle recently, something is happening. Spring is working all around us; taking us on the road to summer, well, British summer anyway. If you cast you heads upwards next time you are out you might notice the cherry trees are in full blossom. We tend to take the cherry blossom for granted in the West, it just sort of happens! But in Japan the cherry blossom, or sakura (桜 or 櫻; さくら) as it is known, is a big deal…but why?
The symbol of the sakura blossom is highly symbolic in Japanese culture, closely associated with the cycle of life, a concept heavily explored in Buddhism. The sakura blossom is known for its stunning beauty and quick death which mirrors mortality for the Japanese. The fact that the sakura blossoms en masse also symbolises clouds to a lesser extent. Because of the symbolic nature of sakura as well as the high number of sakura trees in Japan the sakura blossom is used in some way in nearly all facets of Japanese culture. The sakura pattern is a popular one with clothes and kimonos, many businesses name themselves after the cherry blossom, many traditional and modern songs are named after the blossom and it is a popular tattoo design in traditional tattoos.
As sakura blossom is heavily ingrained into Japanese culture the blossoming itself is a huge cultural event across Japan. Each year the ‘sakura zensen’ (cherry blossom front) is tracked and predicted by the Japanese Meteorological Agency and presented on news reports alongside the weather. The Japanese often keep a close watch on this front and when the blossom begins to bloom in their region many take to the local parks to enjoy ‘hanami’ (花見), or flower viewing. Families or groups of friends gather under the cherry trees to enjoy the sakura and have a good time, food is normally eaten and lots of sake is drunk! In popular locations huge numbers of people gather and paper lanterns are hung from the trees so that groups may enjoy yozakura (夜桜), night time sakura.
So that’s why sakura is such a huge part of Japanese culture. Although there are not as many cherry trees in Newcastle as there might be in Kyoto, there are still plenty about to enjoy in your own ‘hanami’. Next time you are passing by a cherry tree, take a moment or two to enjoy the Sakura.