Japan is famous for far more than Samurai, Sumo and Sony. It’s a country steeped in tradition stretching back thousands of years. One of these ancient customs surrounds the Sakura, the cherry blossom trees that symbolise just how ephemeral beauty – and by extension life itself – really is.
Incredibly, the sakura's gorgeous flowers fully bloom for only one week every year. After this short bloom, the small, round petals detach from the tree and flutter gracefully down to the ground, forming a picturesque carpet all over the country.
It is believed that at this very moment of their demise, the blossoms are at their most beautiful.
For many Japanese, the blooming of the cherry blossom, followed so quickly by its death, perfectly symbolises both the beauty and impermanence of the human condition – an ephemeral spark shining brightly for a few glorious moments before being extinguished forever.
Famed for their delicacy and transitory beauty, Sakura are intrinsically linked to Japan’s history, culture and very identity.
The Japanese love to celebrate and cherish the cherry blossom trees during their brief flowering period and to this end, they hold Hanami or flower-viewing parties.
This wholesome tradition has been recorded as far back as the Nara period (710–794) when Japanese would gather to admire the ume blossoms (Japanese plum). But, fashion being fickle as it is, by the Heian period (794–1185), ume was so last season, and sakura had become the go to blossom for true flower fans.
Emperor Saga (of the Heian period) was said to be super-keen on Sakura, and regularly held flower-viewing parties beneath the trees in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. Here he would gather with his crew to feast mightily, get riotously drunk on sake on and write poems eulogising the fragile blossoms.
“In the cherry blossom's shade
there's no such thing
as a stranger.”
― Kobayashi Issa, 1763 - 1828
Sakura was also linked to the gods (Kami), and was believed to herald the year’s harvest and announce the rice-planting season. And through this, it came to represent renewal and rebirth. People would make offerings in hope of a auspicious harvest and then afterwards partake of some, yep you guessed it, sake.
Hanami continues to remain hugely popular and relevant in contemporary Japanese society. So much so, that the national rugby union team of Japan actually goes by the name of the “brave blossoms” and proudly uses the flower as their logo.
CHERRY BLOSSOM FRONT
'Cherry Blossom Front' may sound like the name of that indie band your little sister loves, but it’s actually an annual forecast put out by the Japan Meteorological Agency alerting would-be Hanami goers of the best times to see the flowering season across the country.
The first blossoms tend to appear in the warmer southern islands of Okinawa in late March, and make their way northwards, finishing up at Hokkaido towards the middle of May. And such is the national interest in the event, that all the major news channels and publications closely monitor and update its progress daily.
Similar celebrations also take place in Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, and China. But funnily enough, the cherry blossom capital of the world isn’t in Japan at all. It’s actually in Macon, Georgia, USA where they have over 300,000 Sakura trees and an annual celebration called the International Cherry Blossom Festival. Everything is bigger and better in ‘Murica, right?! ;)
CHERRY (BLOSSOM) ON TOP
Seeing the Japanese Sakura is something that every avid traveller should do once in their life. Unfortunately due to COVID, 2021 is shaping up to be another year sans Hanami… But the news ain’t all bad, because here at Citizen Wolf we’re launching Sakura as a new limited-edition colour for your next Magic Fit® T-shirt.
It’s our way of reminding you to seize the beauty of life and enjoy every day it has to offer. And as the symbol of renewal and optimism, Sakura is also the colour we need after the year we’ve just had. And as a cherry on top, it also happens to look pretty damn good.
But you’d better hurry, cause just like the fleeting blossoms of Japan, this limited edition colour won’t be around for long.