It’s no secret that Japan is obsessed with cherry blossoms, which are better known by their Japanese name “sakura.” Sakura are so popular that they have become a symbol of spring, and even of Japan itself. While you can see cherry blossoms blooming around the world in the springtime, no place quite compares to their homeland of Japan and the way the flowers are celebrated here. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Japanese people go out to see the sakura, and thousands more people travel to Japan with the express purpose of seeing them, too.
So yes; sakura are very beautiful. But why does Japan love them as much as they do? It goes beyond sakura just being beautiful flowers. In Japanese culture, sakura have a much deeper meaning than what we see on the surface. They’re symbols, and give some insight into the Japanese perspective. So if you want to learn more about just why sakura are as celebrated as they are and have become such a symbol of Japan (and why they’re so prevalent in anime and video games, too!) keep reading. We are going to give a brief overview of the place cherry blossom have in Japanese culture!
Sakura in Real Life
Sakura bloom in Japan in the spring, but at different times across the country. In Tokyo, prime cherry blossom season is in late March to early April, depending on the temperature. Knowing when the sakura will bloom is so important that Japan releases many “sakura forecasts” each year, estimating the prime blooming dates across the country. Before the sakura even begin, there are seasonal sakura flavours popping up everywhere. From the famous sakura lattes at Starbucks to sakura mochi, sakura cookies, sakura tea, and more, you can get overloaded on sakura flavours before the actual flowers even bloom!
Have you ever heard the Japanese word “hanami?” It does not have a direct English translation, but it roughly means “viewing the flowers.” Hanami is a really significant part of Japanese social life in the spring, when people gather with their friends and family anywhere sakura are blooming to have a picnic, drink alcohol, play music, and more under the trees. Across Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and other cities, the parks are completely full of people on the weekends spending time together under the sakura trees. There are usually festivals set up around the best viewing places as well, selling food, sweets, and drinks for hanami-goers to enjoy. And of course, people bring all of their sakura-themed food!
Sakura in Anime
So why is sakura so prevalent in anime? As we highlighted above, its a really important part of Japanese life across the country every spring. Sakura also bloom conveniently at the same time that the fiscal year, work year, and school year change—which is April for most companies and schools in Japan. So sakura are not only a sign of spring, since they bloom before the trees get their leaves again, they’re also a sign of change. Winter is ending, warm weather is coming, the trees are coming back, and everyone is starting a new year at work or school. Sakura represent change and new beginnings, both literally and symbolically.
Many anime take advantage of this by using sakura in final episodes or first episodes to illustrate this change. As a group of friends are starting or ending a school year together, excited by what is ahead of them or reminiscing on what is behind them, there are sakura trees in the background. Sometimes there are even petals falling all around them (which is quite common during sakura season if there is wind in real life too!). Unlike the majority of the world, the school year ends and begins in March/April, so its very likely that real students graduate with the sakura in bloom. Without understanding the Japanese school calendar, and without knowing the symbolism behind sakura, its easy to miss how significant they are in these kinds of scenes in anime.
Plus, sakura are a symbol of Japan. And with how many people love them, they always make a nice addition to anime that take place in Japan!
As you can see, sakura are more than just cute and beautiful flowers that bloom in the spring for Japan. They’re symbols of springtime, of renewal and new chances, new beginnings, and the fragility of life. They’re also a huge part of Japanese social life in the springtime, and likely always will be. Sakura are more than just flowers; they’re a huge part of Japanese culture, and even though they only last a week, their significance is felt all year.
ave you ever been to see the sakura in Japan? or maybe had a hanami party in your own country? Does this article help you have a deeper understanding of sakura, too? Are there any other parts of Japanese culture, otaku or otherwise, you would like to see a similar article about? Drop us a comment!