Sakura trees, which the Japanese call cherry blossoms, mark the beginning of spring.  Most of us love to see sakura trees and photograph as well as videotape them.  They serve as a backdrop, from Mother Nature’s easel of pastel colors, for weddings, communions and many other memorable events.  As we are mesmerized by their beauty, we love to walk through the park when rows of sakura trees are in full bloom.  Our stroll through cherry blossom land is a relaxing and quintessential outdoor activity, but for the Japanese sakura trees are even more special.  These blooms are symbols of Japanese culture.

In Japan, the cherry blossom, like the chrysanthemum, is the national flower of Japan.  When the sakura trees bloom, the Japanese practice the custom of Hanami, which means “watching blossoms” and dates back to a thousand years.  Japanese observe Hanami by sitting under a sakura tree and having a meal as well as drinking.  This is a joyous springtime celebration for the Japanese.  At night, couples also take part in Hanami, which is named yozakura.  The cherry blossoms provide a romantic setting for those who are in love.

In many parts of Honshu, Japan, sakura trees bloom in April when the school year starts and the first day of work also begins.  Cherry blossoms give the Japanese a renewed sense of hope that these new beginnings will be very fortunate.  Since cherry blossoms are revered in Japan, many of these flowering trees are outside of schools and public buildings.

In addition to having many other meanings, the Japanese see cherry blossoms as representing clouds.  As you gaze at the cluster of blossoms together, they really do look like clouds that seem to float with a soft breeze.  The most popular variety of cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino, which contains clusters of white flowers.

Inspiring Japanese people, from all walks of life, sakura trees are seen in Japanese art, films, stationary and kimonos among many other forms of artistic expression.  Sakura trees are also used in Irezumi, which is the art of Japanese tattoos.  Since cherry blossom flowers are edible, they are used as food ingredients in Japan.

Even during war, the Japanese used cherry blossoms as a symbol.  Sakura trees, which were painted on the side of bombers, depicted the magnitude and ephemeral nature of life.  The falling petals were used as a metaphor to symbolize the sacrifice of young people, during suicide missions, to honor the emperor.  The Japanese government motivated people to believe that the souls of the fallen warriors were reincarnated in the sakura trees.

Every time that we see the cherry blossoms we are experiencing a touch of Asian culture.  We must always be thankful to the Japanese for giving us the gift of the cherry blossoms.  In 1912, the Japanese gave 3,020 cherry blossom trees to Americans to celebrate their growing friendship. 

Across our nation, cherry blossoms beautify our land.  Every spring the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC are a very popular tourist attraction adding delicate colors to our nation’s capital that blend well with the White House.

Another popular spot to view cherry blossoms is in New Jersey’s Branch Brook Park.  As the nation’s oldest park, Branch Brook Park has around 5,000 cherry blossoms, the largest collection of cherry blossoms in the whole nation.  Every year tourists come from far and wide to see all of the sakura trees and varieties of birds at Branch Brook Park.

Sakura trees are one of the most beautiful trees, but their blooms are ephemeral.  We must take the time to enjoy them while we can because they do not last long.  During Earth Month, we should think of the many wonders in our planet as ephemeral.  If we do not conserve them, they will not return.  In order to begin to heal the Earth, we need to plant more sakura trees and many other types of trees before it is too late.