5 April 2024

10 Cherry-picked Facts to Wow Your Blossom Buddies

As Japan's cherry blossoms prepare to dazzle in their full glory, it heralds that unique season when people gather their blankets and baskets, ready to claim a spot for this year's hanami. It's a time to revel in the spectacle of pink that sweeps the landscape.

For this year, sprinkle your cherry blossom viewing with some engaging and fascinating tidbits about this seasonal spectacle, adding that splendid layer of joy to your hanami-happiness. Here are ten intriguing and delightful facts, each crafted to ignite a "wow" moment among your flower-sharing friends.

1. The Rich World of Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms, called sakura in Japan, are truly abundant in their variety. A few are wild varieties, like the yamazakura, literally translating to "mountain sakura." However, the vast majority have been cultivated over the years with more than 400 species. The most often-seen someiyoshino is actually a cultivated species and holds about 80% of all cherry blossom trees in Japan. 

2. From One Tree

Surprisingly, the ever-popular someiyoshino's propagation is only through grafting; they are a family of trees with identical genes. While the journey of the very first tree remains shrouded in mystery, the roots of its name comes from Somei Village (now a part of Toshima Ward of Tokyo) where these trees were sold by the many nurseries in the area.  A visit to the Someiyoshino Cherry Memorial Park reveals a monument that honors these origins, watched over by a stately someiyoshino tree.

3. Every Petal Tells a Story

As sakura blankets the landscape in waves of pink, each flower on the branches invites you to marvel at its distinct charm up close. The spectrum of petal colors spans from pure white to deep pink and even yellow, often with a delicate notch at the tip resembling a sharp heart. Among the blooms, you'll find the lush, layered petals of yaezakura puffing up branches with their cottony splendor. And then, there's the magic of hanafubuki, the sakura petal blizzard, where beauty swirls in the air, as they make their elegant exit.

4. The Long-Lasting Delight of Hanami

Thanks to Japan's archipelagic stretch from the warmer south to the chilly north, hanami season unfolds like a leisurely journey, lasting from one to two months. Each year, just before the season kicks off, the sakura zensen—the cherry blossom front—forecasts where and when pink blooms will start their show in each region. 

This year, the official start of the sakura season in Tokyo was announced on March 29 by Meteorological Agency, five days later than the average year, and fifteen days later than last year.

5. Ancient Blossoms

While the beloved someiyoshino typically grace us with their beauty for about 60 to 80 years, other wild varieties boast significantly longer lifespans. Remarkably, there are four sakura trees in Japan estimated to be over a thousand years old. The Jindai Zakura of Jissoji Temple in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture, stands as the oldest and one of the most majestic. Recognized as a National Natural Monument, this legendary tree, believed to be around 2,000 years old, stands about 10 m (33 ft) tall, its trunk encircling a full 12 m (40 ft). This timeless giant serves as a living bridge to the past, celebrating the lasting wonders of nature with every spring bloom.

6. A Toast to Tradition

In ancient times, the sight of a cherry blossom tree in full bloom was viewed as a promise from the deities for abundant fields and good fortune. Folks would gather under the enchanting trees toasting with sake, in hopes for a fruitful harvest. This ritual, born of a profound respect, has evolved into the celebrations we cherish today. Perhaps enjoying a drink under a sakura tree is a beautiful way to honor this past reverence.

7. The Secret of the Sakura Scent 

Unlike plum blossoms, most varieties of cherry blossoms in Japan charm with a faint scent. Surprisingly, its leaves, thanks to a substance called coumarin, lend a unique aroma when torn or wet. This magical component can be enjoyed in delights like sakura mochi and sakura soba. Coumarin is known for its calming effects, enhancing relaxation and sleep. So, as you bask in the beauty of sakura, remember it's the leaves that quietly carry the essence of its tranquility with its delicate aroma.

8. Blossoms of Friendship

In a beautiful gesture of international friendship, cherry blossom trees from the banks of Tokyo's Arakawa River were gifted to Washington, D.C., in 1912.

Over time, as the original site in Tokyo underwent transformations, the iconic sakura trees disappeared from their Japanese roots. Decades later, a heartfelt initiative brought cuttings from the sakura trees in Washington back to Tokyo. Magnificent pink blooms once again adore the banks of Arakawa River.

Adding to this legacy of floral diplomacy, a someiyoshino tree, a gift from former First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1984, continues to flourish in Tokyo's Toneri Park, as a symbol enduring bonds between these two cities.

9. Bittersweet Fleeting Beauty

While cherry blossoms are celebrated for their breathtaking beauty, the grace with which they scatter holds a special virtue in Japanese culture. They perfectly encapsulate the poignant beauty of transience. The splendor of their full bloom paired with the gentle melancholy of falling petals captures a unique charm. Displaying its full beauty for only about 10 days, sometimes even less depending on the weather, the sakura's precious beauty finds a profound, bittersweet allure.

10. MUSUBI Recommended

Lastly, let's highlight some staff-curated gems for cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo, away from the usual hustle and bustle. Here, you can experience spring's splendor just like the locals. Yamashita-san recommends Gakuen Street near Kunitachi Station. From the station platform, you're treated to a stunning view of cherry trees lined up in perfect harmony. Yukawa-san's pick is Senzokuike Park, where a sizable pond sits at its heart. You can enjoy the surrounding sakura trees from the unique perspective of a boat, gently floating on the water.

With these fun facts and little-known spots up your sleeve, you're all prepped for this year's cherry blossom season. Gather your friends, or just a book and some snacks, and find a perfect spot. Happy Hanami, everyone! 

View Sakura Motif Collection