The Sakura: The Legend and the Spiritual Meaning of the Japanese Cherry Blossoms


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Sakura – Legends and Magic

Cila Messages: 4623 Registered: Wed Jan 24, 2018 11:49 pm Location: Russia Occupation: Necromagic, Chaos magic

Sakura – Legends and Magic

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Sakura (yap. 桜, さくら) is a tree in the rose family, plum subfamily, species – small serrated cherry (Prunus serrulata), most of which perform a purely decorative function: flowering but not fruiting (unlike other trees of its species, the Japanese cherry is grown not for berries, but flowers). There are 16 species of sakura and more than 400 of its varieties.

Although mainly found in the south of the northern hemisphere: China, Korea and the Himalayas, Japan has the most trees of the species: nine of the sixteen species and quite a few varieties. There are especially many someyoshino (white sakura with huge flowers) and sidarezakura (weeping willow) – this color of the sakura has a pink hue. Sakura grows very well next to other plants of its species, which, depending on how they were planted, make a different impression. For example, the branches of trees planted in parallel rows can intertwine with each other at the top, forming a blooming arch above your head – it looks especially chic if at this time the flowers have already begun to gradually fall off and a person treads on the carpet that created the petals of the sakura.

The height of the plant depends on its age, but is usually about 8 meters (but there are taller trees, for example, one of the oldest sakura trees in the world, whose age is 1800 years, has a height of about 24 meters).

The bark is smooth and smooth with small horizontal cracks of grey, green or red tones all over the tree, and due to the high resin content the wood is very pliable.

The leaves are oval or spear-shaped with slightly jagged edges. When a cherry twig blooms, it is entirely covered with flowers, mostly white or pink, and each inflorescence consists of a number of macerated flowers, usually with 5 petals. The Japanese managed to breed species whose flowers contain about 50 petals with a diameter of about 50-60 mm – they even resemble roses, peonies and chrysanthemums in appearance. Petals of sakura can be different colors: white sakura and pink are often found, but it is not uncommon to see flowers of red, crimson, yellow and even green and mottled colors. Since the flowers bloom before the leaves even appear on the tree, it seems as if a huge number of delicate inflorescences clung to the dead and bare trunk (so the flowering period in Japan is also associated with rebirth). When the petals begin to fade but have not yet fallen from the tree, and the sprig of sakura develops the first leaves, the plant looks extremely smart and summery (the Japanese call it Ha-Zakura, which means “sakura with leaves”).

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Few trees of this species bear fruit, and if they do, the fruits of sakura (sakurambo) are usually very small, cherry-colored, have a large pit, tightly wrapped in thin flesh, and taste very sour and tart. They are sold in small boxes and are extremely expensive.

Japan, the Korean peninsula and parts of China. Mountain slopes in mixed forests. Flowering time

Cherry blossoms begin in January on Okinawa Island (located in the south) and end on Hokkaido, thus moving northward. The blooming period depends a lot on the species: some plants start blooming in winter and others in late spring. For example, such well-known species as: Fuyu-zakura, which blooms in the last month of autumn; Yama-zakura, an early plant that blooms in late March; Someioshino, in early April; Yae-zakura, in mid-spring; and Kasumi-zakura, in early May.

Uses of the tree in everyday life

The fruits of this plant are used by the Japanese to make sour wine or to add to rice during cooking. They also found a use for its leaves and petals – they pickle them, after which the leaves are used as an edible cover for sakura-mochi sweets made of rice, and the petals are not bad at all as a fragrant spice. During the holidays they are often dipped in boiling water or green tea, in contact with hot water, sakura petals open and delight guests with their appearance. Symbolism of the Cherry Tree

In Japan, the blooming sakura is symbolically similar to the clouds (this is the impression given by thousands of simultaneously blooming trees). The sakura, due to its short blooming period, is also a metaphor for the transience of life, characterizing one of the philosophical aspects of the Japanese cultural tradition, which arose under the influence of Buddhism and encapsulates the idea of mono avare (物の哀れ). One of the fundamental concepts of Japanese culture mono avare can be described as a special sensitivity in the perception and contemplation of the objects of the surrounding world, connected with the awareness of their transience and impermanence among other things. The aesthetics of mono avare is a special understanding of the beauty and charm of the surrounding world in its various manifestations. The Japanese word 無常 (Mujo:) is a Buddhist term for the transience of existence, the impermanence of all things.

Due to its profound symbolism, the sakura is often present in Japanese art, cinema, anime and manga.

Technically, there is no national flower in Japan. But in practice it is the sakura and sometimes the chrysanthemum. The sakura is used in the official symbolism of Japan’s self-defense forces. Since 1967, Japanese coins worth 100 yen are minted with the image of sakura. You can even find the image of a sakura on some family coats of arms of Japan (although its image on them was not popular).

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The centuries-old tradition of Hanami (お花見, the Japanese word for “flower gazing”) is generally understood to have its origins in the Japanese historical period of Nara (710-794). Although the Japanese historical chronicles of the eighth century AD, Nihon-shoki (日本書紀) mentions the first Hanami festivals as early as the third century AD. Then in the Heian period (794 to 1185), the tradition of cherry blossom viewing was further strengthened, and the word Hanami became synonymous with cherry blossom viewing. Since then, in waka and haiku poetry, the word “flowers” (Jap 花, はな) generally meant “cherry blossoms.

Hanami is a very short-lived pleasure, lasting about 7-10 days, and then the petals fall off. In bad weather (wind, rain), the petals fall off on the 5th day. After ume, the sakura blossoms. The optimum temperature for cherry blossoms is +18°. Given the difference in climate between the south and the north, the flowering of cherry trees in Japan stretches for more than three months (from the end of February to the end of May).

Note that initially the tradition of cherry blossom viewing was a privilege of the imperial court in Japan. But gradually, it spread to other segments of the population. And by the Edo period (1603-1868) it had also become a tradition of ordinary people. Tokugawa Yoshimune – the Shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty – patronized cherry blossom cultivation to make cherry blossom gazing more accessible to all segments of the Japanese population.

And now, in Japan, cherry blossom viewing is part of the original national culture and ancient tradition. On cherry blossom days it is customary to gather with beloved family members, friends or work colleagues for picnics under the shade of blossoming trees. Therefore, when Japan is dressed in the sky-pink robes of the blossoming Sakura, the parks of Japan especially on weekends are crowded with people: Japanese and tourists, in other words everyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of the blossoming of this magnificent tree.


Japanese legend tells us that each sakura flower tells the story of a child’s destiny. One day, to prove to the ruler Shogun the cruelty of Prince Hotta, the brave village elder Sakura brought his children to him and showed him their backs, covered entirely with the beatings of the prince’s servants. The punished Hotta held a mortal grudge against the complainant. He managed to sneakily seize Sakura and her children, tied them to a cherry tree, and strangled them to death. Since then, cherry trees in Japan have blossomed pink, because they were sprinkled with the blood of the innocent sakura children. Another Japanese legend also tells the same story about the sakura tree. “When the god Ninigi, who descended from the high heavens to the islands of Japan, was offered two daughters of the god of the mountains to choose from, he chose the younger sister named Blossom, and sent the older one, High Rock, to her father because he found her ugly. Then the father became angry (the eldest daughter is the eldest daughter) and told of his original intention: if Ninigi had chosen Rock as his consort, the life of Ninigi’s descendants would be eternal and lasting – like mountains and rocks. Ninigi made the wrong choice, and therefore the life of his descendants, that is, all Japanese people, from the emperors themselves to the commoners, would be stormy and beautiful, but short-lived – like spring blossoms. “

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What meaning do the Japanese put in admiring the sakura, and where did this tradition come from

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Most often the sakura is associated with one of the countries of the East Japan. Its blossoms are mesmerizing, giving the place where it grows a certain magic and scenic beauty. For the Japanese, the blooming period is a whole event, when it is customary to admire the sakura by day and night, arrange festive events or just relax on a picnic. There are many legends about this unusual tree, and the tradition of celebrating the holiday “hanami” goes back to the ages. Foreign tourists share the admiration for the sakura tree and tend to come to Japan during this period.

History of the Japanese love for the sakura, the flower of the motherland

We are talking about ornamental cherries, which do not bear fruit. But these trees have another advantage for which they are grown. The blooming of the white-pink-red cherry blossoms makes your heart skip a beat. It lasts for 7 to 10 days, but it can last up to 2 months in different parts of Japan. Everything will depend on the climatic characteristics. For example, on the southern islands, the cherry tree begins to bloom in February, and on the island of Hokkaido – in May.

Cherry blossoms on Hokkaido Island. / Photo:

The story begins not with the cherry tree, but with the mountain plum, which was brought to Japan in the 3rd century from China. This was a curiosity to the Japanese aristocracy, and they spent a long time among these flowering trees, relaxing or taking part in entertainment. Then some members of the nobility, in the process of watching the plum blossom, had the idea that it was similar to the fleeting life of man.

Mountain plum blossoms in ancient Japan. / Photo:

After a time, the mountain plum was replaced by the cherry tree. Japanese peasants also had a special attitude toward the sakura tree. Its blossoming was a signal that it was time to plant rice, because the ground had already warmed up sufficiently.

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Many people in Japan grow this crop because they live on the fertile plains. Rice is a staple of the Japanese, and the sakura is considered a symbol of well-being and youthfulness. Interestingly, the Yoshino sakura is recognized as the official symbol of Japan. This status was approved in March 1984 after the competition “Motherland Flower” was held. This event was held by the Japanese broadcasting company in order to choose one of the symbols of the country.

Legends highlighting the symbolism and mystification of the sakura

It is considered a symbol of Japan, prosperity and feminine beauty. There are several legends that reveal the essence of this tree.

The god Nanigi chose the Flowering Sakura as his wife. /

The first legend emphasizes that human life can be short but vivid and memorable. It was time for the god Ninigi to get married, and he was in search of his bride. The god Thor sent his eldest daughter to Ninigi, and the youngest accompanied her. The eldest, High Rock, was a statuesque but unattractive girl. The younger one, Blossoming Sakura, attracted attention with her freshness and beauty, like an early spring. The god Ninigi immediately fell in love with Sakura and chose her as his wife, but sent High Rock away in disgrace to her father. God Thor was angered by this act. Then he said in his heart to Ninigi, “If you had chosen the High Rock, your descendants could live for all eternity. Your choice was wrong. Now your married life will be fleeting but beautiful and bright.” After that, the descendants of the god Niniga and Flowering Sakura became mortal and lived their lives for a short time.

The goddess Sakura, who protected warriors in battle. /

The second legend explains why Sakura’s flowers have a pink hue. Japan has always been a prolific and prosperous country. But someone must have seriously angered the gods. They caused famine, disease and death. The land of Japan was soaked in the blood of hundreds of thousands of people, and in the imperial palace there were humble meals and gloom. Suddenly an unknown tree appeared to all. Flowers bloomed on it, and their petals were a delicate pink, and felt like silk. The tree grew larger every day, and small berries appeared on its branches. Their taste was extremely sour, but they were good for satisfying hunger and giving strength. Thanks to this, a huge number of people were saved from starvation. In gratitude for the rescue, the Japanese named the tree Sakura. It was the name of an ancient goddess who was the protector of people during battles.

Japanese traditions dedicated to the sakura tree

Admiration of the sakura began as early as the third century, after it was introduced from China. Back then it was a plum blossom, not a cherry tree. There was a reason why every Japanese wanted to plant at least one tree in his or her yard. The flowering plum tree was a sign of wealth and family well-being. One of the ancient and favorite traditions among the Japanese is considered to be hanami or “admiring the sakura blossoms”. Historians believe that this custom, according to legends, appeared in the Nara period (710-794). At that time, they admired the blossoms of the mountain plums (ume). Then the Heian period began (until 1185) and the tradition spread throughout Japan. Trees were planted all over the country, but only the elite could admire the sakura. But during the Edo period (1603-1868) this tradition was available to everyone in Japan.

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Hanami festival in Japan. / Photo:

Despite the fact that hanami, the cherry blossom festival, has a long history, it is not an official holiday in Japan and therefore not a day off. Nevertheless, the Japanese still find time to relax, despite being very busy at work.

Read more: 30 magical and mysterious places in Japan, where you want to stay longer As a rule, everyone goes to the parks, where they watch the cherry blossoms. Sitting on a special mat on the lawn, the Japanese have a picnic and relax, watching the cherry trees. For the picnic sell special kits “hanami bento”, which can be bought in grocery stores. What is interesting, the park can also gather on the lawn during this period to conclude various contracts. So to speak, in a pleasant environment to work fruitfully.

Cherry blossoms in the evening. / Photo:

Those who could not spare the time to relax during the day, can admire the sakura in the evening. Each tree is equipped with lights and it is an unforgettable, one might say, a magical spectacle. The most beloved parks in Tokyo are Shinjuku-goen and Sumida. The former has about 1,500 sakura trees.

How foreigners feel about the Sakura

The blossoming of this tree in spring is treated with awe and breathlessness all over the world. Foreign tourists are eager to come to Japan and admire the sakura trees. There is even a list of the best places to admire the country, which was compiled by the Japanese Association.

Blossoming of maralnik (Siberian sakura) in Altai. / Photo: crown-tour.rf

Interestingly, the tradition of admiring the cherry blossoms is not only in Japan, but also in other countries. Such an event is held in Amsterdam, Chicago. It is also celebrated in South Korea, in Russia in the Far East and in Altai. The latter have made their own adjustments, replacing the Japanese sakura with the Altai maralnik, whose blossoms resemble a cherry tree, although the families are different. Locals call the maralnik “Siberian Sakura”. Flowering of the Sakura can rightly be called another miracle of nature, which is worth seeing with your own eyes. For those who do not have such an opportunity, you can look at photographic landscapes from Japan, which are breathtaking.

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