17 Facts You Probably Don't Know About Sakura, Japan's National Flower

Sakura (cherry blossoms) blanket the Japanese landscape in the spring, painting the country with its gentle pink hue. These flowers are one of the country's most famous sights and have been deeply ingrained in Japanese culture: not only do Japanese people make every effort to see them in full bloom (usually between late March and April), but these flowers have made it into art and poetry, food and drink. In particular, the Japanese see their brevity - many only bloom for a week or two - as a symbol of the impermanence and transience of life. All tourists traveling through Japan in the springtime should set time aside to see them, and to help you appreciate them further, here are 17 facts about the sakura!

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1. Sakura Belongs to the Rose Family, Rosaceae

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Sakura (桜) is a general name for plants that belong to the subfamily of the Rosaceae. The English name for sakura is cherry blossom. Sakura can be written in Chinese characters/kanji (桜), in hiragana (さくら), or in katakana (サクラ).

2. Somei-Yoshino Is the Most Common Variety in Japan

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Somei-yoshino is a cultivar of sakura tree made in Japan. Its scientific name is Cerasus x yedoensis (Matsum.) A.V.Vassil.

Somei-yoshino have grown all over in Japan ever since the Meiji period. When the news announces the sakura has started blooming, they use the somei-yoshino variety as the standard.

3. The Somei-Yoshino Variety Blooms for Around One Week

Taichiro Ueki/Flickr

Sakura flowers bloom and die fast. The flower petals fall down constantly, coloring the ground around them with a pretty carpet of white or pale pink petals. This feature is often admired and said to be one of the appeals of sakura. 

4. There Is a Name for the State When the Sakura Petals Have All Fallen and the Leaves Are Budding

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This state is called hazakura (葉桜). This seems strange at first, because there are no sakura flowers, yet 'sakura' is in the name. This may reflect just how much the Japanese people love every state of sakura trees.

If you'd like to see cherry blossoms in real life, this article explains when you can see cherry blossoms bloom in Japan in 2020, including detailed forecasts of sakura trees in each region!

5. There Are More Than 600 Species of Sakura in Japan

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This number includes native and hybrid species in Japan. Sakura is known for its many varities that influence the change of petals, the size and color of the flowers, amount of  fruit, and so on. This natural variation has also helped the creation of the many hybrid varities. 

6. Sakura Trees Can Easily Rot

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Sakura rots from cuts in their bark or roots. Once it starts rotting, it could easily spread to the whole tree, and die. This is why you need to pay attention where you put your sheets or blankets during hanami picnics. You may easily be shortening the tree's life. Pictured above above is a sakura tree in treatment to prevent rotting.

7. The Oldest Sakura Tree Is 2000 Years Old

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This sakura is called the Jindai Zakura (神代桜). The root circumference is 13.5 m. You can see it at the Jissou Temple in Yamanashi Prefecture.(Official site in Japanese here.)

8. The Number of Petals Influences the Flower Name

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Flowers that have up to 5 petals are called hitoe (一重). Flowers that have 5 to 10 petals are called hanyae (半八重). Flowers that have more than 10 petals are called yae (八重). The image above are yae flowers.

9. People Sit Down Under Sakura and Feast

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Hanami (花見) means to look at the flowers, which is what you partly do during hanami, but you mostly eat and drink! This type of event is widely popular in Japan. Hanami is also a great social event to get to know your co-workers or your classmates better, since the new academic or business year starts in April, which is the same timing as when the sakura blooms. 

If this sounds like something you'd like to try sometime, read through this article for a quick guide on how to do hanami!

10. You Can Eat Sakura Petals and Leaves

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After the petals and leaves undergo a process called shiozuke (塩漬け), or brining, you get pickles called sakurazuke (桜漬け). Sakurazuke has a distinctive aroma and is used in pastries or sweets called sakura mochi (桜餅), which is shown in the image above. Sakura mochi is a Japanese treat, which is red bean curd either completely or partly wrapped by pink-colored mochi and wrapped in a sakurazuke leaf. Sakura mochi is often eaten during the sakura season. Sakura mochi isn't the only cherry blossom sweet out there! Check out our roundup of 15 Cherry Blossom Foods to Try This Spring.

11. You Can Also Drink Sakura Blossoms

Froschmann/Flickr

Put 2 or 3 of the sakurazuke flowers into a cup of hot water to make a type of tea called sakurayu (桜湯). Since the flower blooms inside the cup and looks beautiful, sakurayu is often drunk at formal gatherings such as weddings.

Of course, given the sakura's prominence in Japan's society, people have devised many different ways to work the flower into food and drink. Check out this article for a few examples!

12. Sakura Is Seen as a Symbol of Grace and Transience

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In the Japanese language of flowers, or hana-kotoba, sakura represents spiritual beauty and a good education. The language of flowers for somei-yoshino variety specifically is purity and a graceful beautiful person. The language of flowers for yae-zakura (八重桜), which are called double cherry blossoms in English, is a good education and grace. In other words, sakura has a positive message in Japanese culture. For more Japanese flowers and their meanings, you can read more about hana-kotoba here.

13. Sakura Is Also a Symbol for New Beginnings

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This is because the academic and business years start in April, when the sakura is mostly at full bloom. Also, many schools plant sakura trees on their grounds. 

14. Sakura Is Engraved on the 100 Yen Coin

Ken OHYAMA/Flickr

This symbolizes just how deeply the existence of sakura is rooted in the Japanese culture. Other flowers engraved on coins are chrysanthemums on the 50 yen coin and tachibana on the 500 yen coin.

If you'd like to see these blossoms in real life, this article provides a list of places to check out!

15. The Self-Defence Forces of Japan Uses the Sakura Flower as a Logo

iskws/Flickr

The JMSDF (Japan Military Self-Defence Forces) use logos of sakura blossoms in their rank badges and flags. However, sakura is not the national flower of Japan. Japan does not have an official national flower.

16. Sakura is a Popular Girls Name

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Both Sakura and Sakurako (桜子) are popular girls names in Japan. 'Ko' means child, and is often at the end of the name of a female name. Sakura is often associated with femininity, so there are not many boys named Sakura out there.

17. March 27 is the Day of Sakura

Hideo/Flickr

This day was decided by the incorporated foundation of the Nihon Sakura no Kai (日本さくらの会), or Japan Sakura Association, in 1992. It does not hold any legal power; it is not an actual national holiday.

See Sakura in Japan!

If you're planning a trip to Japan this spring, check out our 2020 Cherry Blossom Forecast! This article gives you all you need to know about the most beautiful cherry blossom spots in Japan and when they're forecasted to be in their peak in 2020.

 


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Header Image: Picnote / Shutterstock 

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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