When the cherry blossoms bloom in spring we all know winter is coming to an end. Watching cherry blossoms or cherry blossom petals falling from trees is a personal favorite motif that I love seeing in anime. To me, these small pink flowers are magical and special in their own way. Cherry blossom trees in Japan are more than just a beautiful tree, they are a magnificent sight to behold, especially when in full riotous bloom.
If you didn’t know there are several varieties of cherry blossom trees. Most of these trees produce flowering branches full of small pinkish-hued flowers, but some of them also produce actual cherries. The most common type of cherry trees are the Somei Yoshino (Yoshino Cherry), the Yamazakura, and the Shidarezakura (Weeping Cherry). Early flowering cherry trees include Kanzakura, Kawazuzakura, and Kanhizakura. Late flowering cherry trees are the Ichiyo, Ukon, Kanzan, Fugenzo, Shogetsu, Kikuzakura (Chrysanthemum Cherry), and Jugatsuzakura (Autumn Cherry). While the light pink to white color is standard in the cherry blossom realm, other colors you may see are dark pink, yellow or even green blossoms. These colors may even change while the flowers are in bloom. An example of this would be if a white flower opened up as white but changes to pink over the course of a few days.
Most cherry blossom trees bloom in the spring time, with blooming periods about two to four weeks after most five-petaled species. Extreme varieties bloom in late autumn and during the winter months. When these majestic trees bloom in Japan people come in large groups with their families and friends to view the flowers and to enjoy festivals that have food, drinks, and music. This cherry blossom viewing party is called “Hanami.” Basically everyone takes time to view/enjoy the transient beauty of flowers.
But cherry blossoms aren’t just pretty flowers to gaze at, there is a much deeper meaning behind these blush colored perennials. The significance of these trees in Japan goes back hundreds of years. While cherry blossoms also hold an elevated status in China (in which they signify love and the female mystique of beauty, strength, and sexuality), no one in the world can compare to how cherished this elusive flower is in Japan. The cherry blossom holds regal status in Japanese paintings, films, and poetry. You may stop and ask yourself, “why does a small fragile flower hold so much siginificance in Japan?” I’ll give you one simple clue. Human existence.
You see, Japanese cherry blossoms are a metaphor for human existence. These flowers also tie into the Buddhist themes of mortality, mindfulness, and living in the present. When the cherry blossoms bloom for a short period of time it is a reminder to the people viewing them that blooming season is glorious, powerful, and intoxicating, but tragically short-lived – a visual reminder that our lives on this planet are also fleeting. Cherry blossoms also represent fragility and the beauty of life itself. Life is not only precious, but oddly precarious at the same time. So why don’t humans marvel at their own life/passing of time with the same passion they do while viewing cherry blossoms? Why do we neglect the fact that our lives can end at any moment? Why do we miss the chance to revel in our own happiness and enjoy our lives just a little bit more? I think that is what the cherry blossoms are trying to teach us; that we need to slow down, stop, and pay attention to the world around us.
Over on Not Without My Passport they give a history lesson on cherry blossom symbolism. They state: “In Japanese culture, sakura as the embodiment of beauty and mortality can be traced back centuries. No one in history personified this metaphor more than the samurai, the warriors of feudal Japan who lived by bushido (“the way of the warrior”) — a strict moral code of respect, honor and discipline. It was their duty to not only exemplify and preserve these virtues in life, but to appreciate the inevitability of death without fearing it — in battle, it came all too soon for the samurai. A fallen cherry blossom or petal, it’s believed, symbolized the end of their short lives.
During World War II, cherry blossoms took on a similar meaning for Japanese pilots who painted their kamikaze warplanes with the flower imagery before embarking on suicide missions to “die like beautiful falling cherry petals for the emperor.”
Just like my previous post about the symbolism of water in anime, I find the meaning behind cherry blossoms completely fascinating. I also realized this post would have been better in the spring time but I wanted to write about it while it was in my thoughts. I love the fact that cherry blossoms, water, and whatever else you can think up can have a multitude of meanings depending on the culture or person. Cherry blossoms are something that brings everyone together for a single moment of bliss in our overly complicated and busy lives. That is something I can get behind. Remember to stop and appreciate the beauty of nature from time to time. As Jesse Eisenberg says in the movie Zombieland, “Rule #32: Enjoy the little things.”
Header image found at: https://www.zerochan.net/2106459. Disclaimer: All imagery and photos come from searching for them on the internet. I have no claim or right to them. If I find any links I will always post them (this usually entails fan art or any other work affiliated with an artist).