Delicate, simple and fleeting, Cherry Blossoms are one of the most identifiable flowers in the world that are cultural icons and symbols for many people all around the world.
Known as “Sakura” in Japan, these tiny pink flowers are produced by cherry trees which bloom only in the spring for about two weeks. Where ever there are Cherry Blossoms planted in the world, you can be sure that they will draw quite the crowd of spectators to watch them bloom. Given how popular they are, you might be wondering what they symbolise? Cherry blossoms can be found all across Asia and even in the U.S.A, but their meaning is unique to every culture.
Most people think of Japan when they think of Cherry Blossoms, they are so integral to Japanese cultural identity that many deem them to be the country’s unofficial national flower (with the official national flower being the chrysanthemum as the Imperial Emblem). During the cherry blossom season, you can see cherry blossom decorations lining the streets to mark the occasion as thousands of people make their way to admire the blooming flowers. This tradition of watching the flowers bloom is known as “hanami” or “flower viewing” is a custom that dates as far back a the 3rd Century.
Lladró’s Limited Edition Sweet Scent of Blossoms Sculpture. Depicting a woman enjoying the blossoms.
Of course, there is a much deeper significance behind the admiration for these flowers. To the Japanese, cherry blossoms herald the coming of spring, hope and renewal. In a more metaphorical sense, due to their delicate nature and short life-span they are a stark embodiment of the impermanence of life and beauty. A reminder to all to appreciate what we have, while we have it, because nothing is certain and change is a necessity.
Lladró’s Blossoms for the Kitten Sculpture with delicate cherry blossoms created petal by petal.
According to legend, there is a cherry tree that once grew on the land of a Samurai, as the warrior began to wither and age, so did the tree. The Samurai felt bad for the tree which he had tended, so as a final act of courage and selflessness he gave his life in a ritual act. In doing so, he gave his life’s essence to the tree which nourished it and within an hour the tree began to blossom and lives even to this day somewhere in the Iyo district of Japan. This legend came to reflect the noble and sacrificial nature of the warrior lifestyle with Kamikaze pilots taking the fallen cherry blossom as their emblem. A single fallen cherry blossom is symbolic of a fallen warrior who sacrificed their life for another.
China is one of a number of cultures that has its own cultural significance attached to cherry blossoms. The symbolism of this flower is quite different to the Japanese, in China cherry blossoms are symbolic of feminine power, mystique and beauty. They herald the arrival of Spring and new life, much like the female ability to create and carry new life. In addition, the cherry blossoms’ enchanting appearance is a reflection of female beauty and command of her own sexuality. This symbolism has transferred into tattoo culture as many women will get a cherry blossom tattoo as a celebration of their femininity and independence.
THE UNITED STATES
If you’ve ever visited Washington D.C., you might have noticed the many cherry blossom trees lining the banks of the Potomac. What you may not know is that these trees were an important step down the road towards lasting peace between Japan and the U.S. In 1912 they were gifted by Yukio Ozaki, then the mayor of Tokyo to Congress in support of Teddy Roosevelt’s decision to put an end to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Japan in the Russo-Japanese War. Over 3000 trees were sent and on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Potomac River.
Ozaki would continue to support peace and friendly relation between Japan and the U.S. even at great risk to his own life during World War II. He was a vocal advocate for disarmament, democracy and international cooperation at a time when few others would. These trees would become a symbol of his life’s work, in his final years he composed a poem in memory of the gift and all that it stood for:
“As I gaze at cherry blossoms in my garden
From my sickbed, I recall
The Potomac in spring.”
Although it has been many years since the cherry blossoms were planted, the sentiments with which they were given and planted have not been forgotten. Thousands of spectators come to view the flowers bloom every year and even participate in hanami, allowing people to contemplate and reflect on the long history and enjoy the tranquil surroundings that they create.
Cherry blossoms are a unique flower, even aspect of it's existence is imbued with deep meaning and significance. Discover more about the hidden language of flowers.