When you hear the word Japan, one of the first things that comes to your mind are probably cherry blossoms or sakura, how they are called in Japanese. Because in Japan sakura are literally everywhere. About 3 million tourists visit Japan every year just to see them. So people might think that sakura is Japan’s national flower. But is sakura really Japan’s national flower?
What Is Sakura?
Sakura (桜) is the Japanese name for cherry blossom trees. But more often people mean the flowers those cherry trees, which bloom in white or pink-ish colours. There are various kinds of cherry trees, all of which have different shaped and coloured leafs.
In Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto the cherry blossom season begins usually in early April. But in places like Okinawa the cherry trees can bloom as early as in January. And in places like Hokkaido they only start blooming in May. Predicting when exactly the sakura start blooming isn’t that easy because it’s dependent on many things like the temperature, sunlight, etc. Nevertheless are there many weather forecast like sites where you can check where and when the sakura start blooming.
After they start to bloom it takes the sakura trees about one week to reach 満開 mankai (full bloom). The time each tree reaches mankai differs from tree to tree because of lighting, ground conditions and many other factors. But after reaching mankai there’s usually one week left to enjoy the sakura flowers. I personally enjoy the after-mankai-season more because the flowers start falling and make for a great atmosphere.
Sakura Is Japan's National Flower
People often ask me what is Japan’s national flower? And if I told them sakura is Japan’s national flower, the’d probably believe me. But sakura isn’t Japan’s national flower. Japan doesn’t even have a national flower. However in regard of the influence sakura has on Japan, Japanese people and Japan’s culture, many argue that it should at least be called Japan’s unofficial national flower.
But sakura definitely is of national importance for Japan. In cherry blossom season almost 3 million tourists visit Japan just to see the cherry blossoms.
Sakura's Influence on Japanese Culture
Sakura influences Japanese culture in many ways. There are many train stations which are named after sakura, there are countless songs about sakura, people call their company sakura, authors write books about sakura and the 100 Yen coin also depicts a cherry blossom. That’s why it makes sense to say that sakura is Japan’s national flower. Nevertheless, officially it isn‘t.
In Japan the blooming cherry blossoms also stand for the beginning of a new year. Both the Japanese school year and Japanese fiscal year start during cherry blossom season. Furthermore does the new Japanese era called 令和 reiwa start on the first of May 2019 after emperor Akihito stepped down on April 30th.
Activities Related to Japan's National Flower
As I said before (at least unofficially) sakura is Japan’s national flower . For many people that’s wearing a mask (read why Japanese people wear masks). But obviously there are many more real avtivities. I am now going to present some of them.
花見 - Hanami
Japanese people don’t often eat outside. But when the cherry trees start blooming they suddenly all gather outside on their blue picnic sheets and start eating bento (read more about bento) or rice balls (read about other great ways to eat rice). That’s what is called 花見 (hanami) which literally means flower watching.
Japanese don’t only enjoy their national flower during the day but also at night. Most bigger parks will organise light-up events. You will also find smaller Light-Up events at local shrines, neighbourhood streights or maybe a restaurant which has a small garden. And just like during the day you will see Japanese people doing hanami under the trees.
I went to various light-up event like the one at Ueno park in Tokyo. But to be honest with you, sakura look better during the day.
Renting a Boat
If you find sitting on a picnic sheet all day boring you can rent a boat. I too wanted to rent one but there was one catch.
When I went to Chidorigafuchi near the former Edo castle there were boats available for rent. The only problem was that to get on one you would have had to wait three hours. If you have an excess amount of free time, why not? But for my part seeing the cherry blossoms from the ground is good enough.
Taking Pictures of Sakura
The last activity is obviously taking pictures. What else would you do? Everybody is taking pictures of cherry blossoms, you might wonder if they even look at them through their own eyes. There are also many people dressing up just to get the perfect picture. My instagram feed was so full of sakura pictures that after the cherry blossom seasons ends, I don’t want to see any sakura for a while. That said I also took tons of pictures and posted them on instagram.