Sakura is the Japanese term for flowering cherry trees — Prunus serrulata — that produce beautiful cherry blossoms for a short time each spring. These trees are different from the species of cherry tree that produces cherry fruit.

Their natural beauty and powerful symbolism, as well as their prominent use in Japanese art, have made cherry blossoms an icon of the cultural identity of Japan. In fact, some consider cherry blossoms to be the informal national flower of Japan.

Every year, the Japanese track the progress of the blossoming of the cherry trees. The sakura zensen, or cherry blossom front, moves slowly north with warmer weather, starting in Okinawa in January and progressing to Kyoto and Tokyo by the beginning of April.

As the cherry trees begin to bloom in each area, the Japanese enjoy hanami, which is the tradition of picnicking under a blooming cherry tree to view their natural beauty. The hanami tradition dates back many centuries and represents a joyous time of festivals and celebrations in honor of the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

Most Japanese schools feature cherry blossom trees. Because the school year begins in April each year, the first day of school often coincides with the cherry blossom season.

Unfortunately, the beauty of the cherry blossoms lasts but a short time. Sometimes the cherry blossoms last only a week or so.

The way they bloom all at once and die out shortly thereafter has come to be a powerful symbol in Japan of our human mortality and how short and precious life can be.

Because of their powerful symbolism and natural beauty, cherry blossoms are used often in Japanese art, as well as in the design of all sorts of consumer goods. The Japanese view cherry blossoms as omens of good luck, love and springtime.

But Japan is not the only place you can find these beautiful cherry trees. In 1912, Japan gave more than 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a gift to celebrate the countries’ friendship.

The trees were planted in Sakura Park in New York City, as well as along the shore of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., near where the Jefferson Memorial now sits.

In the United States, the Japanese cherry trees are a popular tourist attraction. Each spring, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the trees’ beauty during the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Japanese cherry trees can also be found in large numbers in many other U.S. cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Macon, Georgia.

So is all the fun over when the cherry blossoms fall? Not quite! Cherry blossoms are edible. Many Japanese pickle cherry blossoms in salt and vinegar to use as food ingredients!

 

26 Join the Discussion

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  1. Without doubt, one of our most favorite videos ever. My dragons say “we love it”, “beautiful”, “flowery”, “it would be great to dream about”.

    Thank you for sharing about the cherry blossom tree!

    We Love Wonderopolis!

    • We’re so happy that your dragons liked today’s Sakura Wonder, Mr. Fines! Their descriptions are WONDERful! Thank you for sharing them with us today! :-)

  2. Now, I know exactly what sakura is. Thanks Wonderopolis. When we had our music program, we really didn’t know what Sakura was. I love the video. The Cherry trees are extremely beautiful!!!

    • We think the trees are very beautiful, too, Meredith/MC! They make us wish it was springtime all year long! :-)

  3. Those trees are beautiful and I remember doing that song for our music program too, Abby.And Wonderopolis thank you for the pins and wonder cards/business card!!!!!!!!

    • Thank YOU, Lily M/C, for being such a GREAT Wonder Friend! We are so happy that your class visits Wonderopolis every day! :-)

  4. I am doing my research project on Japan’s tsunami. It is nice to have some other information on Japan along with my topic. I also have looked at the tsunami wonder page to get some more information.

    • Thanks for sharing this cool fact with everyone, Brie! We did a little Wonder research about the anime character Sakura. We think it’s really cool that her pink hair matches the beautiful color of the real cherry blossoms! :-)

  5. Loved reading the symolism of the cherry blossom and when they bloom at different times throughout Japan. Good background information to share with my music classes when I teach the song.

    • Hello, Carrie! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today! We’re so glad that you learned something new from this Wonder of the Day®, and that you will share some new, interesting Sakura facts with your music students! :-)

  6. There is a Japanese Cherry Blossom at the store called (Works For Body Wash) and in any store, there different kinds, too. I like the Blossom and the Sweet Pea ones…they smelled the best :)!

  7. I love love love sakura! They’re so pretty and sweet-looking! I made a painting once about a sakura in Japan and how it grew and became the face of Kyoto. And how it blossoms under the sunlight and the breeze! What a sight! :D :D :D :D :D :D

    • Hi there Athenamarie! We’re so glad you enjoyed WONDERing about sakura– they are quite beautiful! We really like your enthusiasm for these pretty cherry trees, and how cool that you use them as your inspiration for art, too! :)

    • Great question, Kasenya! We Wonder if you checked out the Wonder of the Day®– we would love to hear what you learned from it! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What are sakura?
  • What do cherry blossoms symbolize in Japan?
  • What is kanji?

Wonder Gallery

cherry blossoms_shutterstock_62627689Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Want to learn how to write cherry blossom in Japanese? Written Japanese uses three different alphabets. Two of them are “syllabic,” which means they use simple characters to represent syllables or the sounds we use to say words.

The third alphabet is called kanji, and it uses sometimes complex pictographs to represent meaning, rather than sounds. While kanji might seem difficult at first, it is both beautiful and fascinating.

Visit Kanji of the Week to learn how to create the kanji character for “cherry blossom.” We think you’ll enjoy learning how the kanji character sakura relates its meaning by combining the elements for tree, woman and decoration.

 

Still Wondering

Want to learn more about Japan? Grab your passport and travel to ArtsEdge’s Japan: Arts & Culture online interactive exhibit!

 

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