The cultivation and enjoyment of sakura, or flowering cherry trees, started in Japan during the 8th Century, and has spread from there to many other countries around the world. In ancient times, the sakura blossoming was an occasion for hanami, a celebration and time for the Japanese to consider the transient and ephemeral nature of human life. Because the sakura blossom wih great beauty for only a short time, and quickly fade and die, many people associate them with human mortality. The samurai adopted the cherry blossom, because of its transience, and it’s perhaps from this association that the flowers came to symbolize drops of blood. Nowadays, people in Japan listen carefully to the weather forecast as spring unfurls from the Southern islands upwards, and the sakura zensen (or cherry blossom front) is a time for hanami celebrations to be scheduled.
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Today, hanami are occasions for outdoor parties, at which people come together to enjoy the sight and scent of the blossoms, while eating and drinking together. I remember drinking sake under the cherry blossoms in Yoyogi Park or Ueno Park in the late 1980s, sitting with my colleagues and their spouses; we were enjoying the blossoms, for sure, and each other’s company. Had we been thinking about the meaning of the sakura, we would have considered the brevity of life, and become more resolute in pursuing our professional and personal goals. We would also have considered that the blossoms bring good fortune, and that they’re symbols of simplicity and innocence, as well as love and affection.
Had I been in China, and not Japan, we would have been considering different meanings for the cherry blossom; there, cherry blossoms are the flower for the month of April, and signify feminine superiority, dominance and beauty.