April 08, 2010

We know little about Sakura.

People in Japan have long loved cherry blossoms and seen beauty in those blooming flowers as well as in the way they flutter to ground. People have felt the sense of the transience of their lives in them. Everything is transient and nothing lasts forever.

But, are the cherry blossoms which people admired and were mentioned about in poems of old and the cherry blossoms which we enjoy viewing now , the same or not? The answer is closer to No.
There was a huge turning point which changed Sakura history drastically. It occurred in 1730 when Somei-Yoshino was created by a gardener in Somei village in Edo, the old name of Tokyo. Before this creation of Somei-Yoshino, the word "Sakura" meant mountain cherry trees which people admired and composed poetry about . Why and when were mountain cherry trees replaced with Somei-Yoshino? Let's compare Somei-Yoshino and mountain cherry trees.

Somei-Yoshino bear more and bigger flowers which are whitish pink. Before the leaves bud, Somei-Yoshino burst into bloom. People enjoy the pure and gorgeous beauty of flowers without leaves. Besides, they increase in number easily, grow rapidly and bear flowers very soon. They are not choosy about soil. But they can be increased by being grafted and the cutting planted. As all Somei-Yoshino have been created from one Somei-Yoshino, it follows that all of them have exactly the same DNA, like clones. They grow sooner but they die faster. They live about sixty to one hundred years.
How about mountain cherry trees. They have been increased by pollinators such as birds or insects. So each tree has a different DNA and shows its colorful characteristics. The flowers have shades of color from white to reddish pink, and the color of the leaves is from red, brown, green to yellow. The leaves grow with flowers. They are less gorgeous than Somei-Yoshino, but they have a classy beauty. Some of them live more than five hundred years, but they take thirty years to mature.
Somei-Yoshino dovetailed perfectly with people's demands that they wanted cherry trees to grow more quickly and bear more flowers sooner.

After the Meiji Restoration in 1867, the army of Japan loved Somei-Yoshino as their characteristics matched the spirit of the army. Eventually Somei-Yoshino became the iconic flower of the army. They planted a huge number of Somei-Yoshino in the army bases throughout Japan. Somei-Yoshino started driving out mountain cherry trees from gardens, parks or Sakura viewing spots.

Nowadays, Somei-Yoshino is synonymous with Sakura and about eighty percent of Sakura trees in Japan are Somei-Yoshino with the same DNA. This means that if conditions like temperature, climate or weather are the same, Somei-Yoshino all over Japan burst into bloom and petals fall at the same time. There are worrying matters. If specific diseases or damage from insect pest occur to Somei-Yoshino, what will happen? Also, after World War Two, so many Somei-Yoshino were planted. Judging from their life span, the time left for them is not so long. One day massive death of Somei-Yoshino can happen. This is not a SF story but a fact.


  1. So variety is preferable, from the point of view of the survival of species? Thanks for the history. Personally, I'm glad I can enjoy the cherry blossom just as it is, without any cultural baggage or weighed down by historical cultural memories.

  2. Such a long history cherry tree has !
    Many people are not aware that the life span of massive Somei-Yoshino would end soon. I really enjoy cherry blossom without a possibility of the danger. Many young Somei-Yoshino have to be planted like we take care of our gardens.

  3. I take my hat off to you for your knowledge and painstaking writing. Pictures are just lovely!

    I'm amazed that each tree lives according to its own law, fulfilling its unique possibilities.

  4. Marc,
    I'm enjoying Sakura as it is. i didn't intend to write the history of Sakura. I am just iterestred in the fact that most Sakura appeciated by us now and Sakura loved by people of the old days are different, and also that Sakura loved by Samurai warriors was mountain cherry blossoms while Sakura loved by the modern army of Japan was Somei-Yoshino. Somehow it seems for me to symbolizes the diffrences between the Samurai warriors and the modern army.

  5. Redrose,
    In other seasons I scarcely notice they are cherry trees. But in spring suddenly they bloom in pink and let me know they are cherry trees. It is alwasys a very happy surprise for me. I am writing about cherry trees which grow not in famous Sakura viewing spots but in ordinary hillsides or small parks or someone's gardens and so on.

  6. I read several books on Sakura, which opend my eys. I felt these findings about Sakura were very interesting and wanted to share them with someone.
    I'm very glad you like my pictures. I took them in the Nara Park and around my house. Don't miss the beauty of other trees budding. I love yong leaves of maple trees whose picture is under a weeping cherry tree.

  7. I am writing about cherry trees which grow not in famous Sakura viewing spots but in ordinary hillsides or small parks or someone's gardens and so on.

    My favourite cherry blossom memory is of a tree not in a park or beauty spot but in the hills near Shingu where a friend of mine lived. We drank sake and talked and walked around while his young daughters danced and played in the sunshine. I took a photo, but it is not a digital one (it was more than 20 years ago). The album is in my attic, I think. Damn! Now I must go and look for it!

  8. I happened to see the picture of cherry tree in your blog. I understand well what you wrote about them.
    This year I go after cherry blossoms. I have a close friend who is now taking a hospice care because of a pancreas cancer. When I visited her in the hospital the other day, it was when cherry blossom viewing was planned for the patients and I was able to accompany her and push her wheelchair under the cherry trees. She said she’d treasure that memory for the rest of her life.
    After that, I felt somehow urgent in need of seeing cherry trees as much as possible. Usually I hate crowds so I avoided going to popular viewing places but I went to Mt. Yoshino for the trees on Sunday. Like you said, there were subtle differences in colors among them. Looked down from high place, they produced gentle, calm and beautiful tapestry covering mountain sides with thin shades of warm tints. I printed the scenery on my mind together with another two eyes.

  9. Marc, Cosmos,
    Sakura are spritually significant and very different from other flowers for us.

    Mt. Yoshino full of Sakura flowers must have divine beatuy.

    I have been to the Nara Park several times to see cherry blossoms as I have a little symptoms of hey fever this spring. I hadn't appreciated the beauty of cherry blossoms for a long time. What a big loss in my life it is not to be able to go out to view Sakura in spring!

    I have my own favorite Sakura which people scarecely go to see. Because its flowers are almost white. For me people seem to believe Sakura flowers are pink and must be pink always.


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