Japanese cherry

The species

The Japanese cherry tree (scientific name Prunus serrulata) is a deciduous tree native to the East. It reaches a maximum height of 12-15 meters and its trunk, large and robust, has a dark brown bark. The leaves are slightly oval, with a narrow apex and toothed margin, dark green or bright green in the younger ones. Flowering occurs in spring and the medium-sized flowers are abundant and bright pink, sometimes whitish. The most common flowers are made up of five petals, but there are several varieties and races with ten or more petals. The fruits are represented by small purple-red, sweetish drupes (cherries), and rarely exceed a diameter of 2-3 centimeters. In the West it is still a rare species, but in the East (China, Korea and Japan) it is a type tree.

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In Japan, hanami is the traditional custom of observing cherry blossoms in spring. The term is formed by the particle “hana” which means flower, while “mi” means to see. Although the term can be interpreted in a generic way, in Japan it is used exclusively for cherry blossoms, called Sakura. The tradition has distant origins: according to a legend, around the 7th century BC, a priest named En-no Ozuno went to the hills of Yoshino to plant the first cherry trees and, to protect them, he launched a curse on all those who dared to cut down. one of these sacred trees. Initially the celebration of hanami was limited to the nobles and the royal court, but over time it has become a custom of the people and still today it is one of the most awaited celebrations, also attracting tourists from all over the world. In the months of April and May (depending on the area), when flowering occurs, the inhabitants of Japan go to the indicated locations and enjoy picnics in the shade of the trees, drinking and spending time with friends.

Sakura and its meanings

The hanami festival represents the brevity of life for the Japanese; cherry blossoms, sakura, are something ephemeral, destined to die out soon, so their main meaning is life that ends quickly and that must be fully appreciated and lived in an intense way. In addition, Sakura flowers represent melancholy, compassion, fragility, but also delicacy, femininity and rebirth after the long winter. It is customary for students and recent graduates (in Japan the school year and the working season begins in the spring) to go under the blossoming cherry trees to attract good luck. Among the samurai they were an important element: courage, loyalty and purity were symbolically enclosed in this flower, and it was no coincidence that during the battles they wore the effigy carved on the armor.

Japanese cherry: Curiosities related to the Japanese cherry

During the celebration of hanami there is the custom of preparing and consuming sweets typical of the Japanese tradition, called Sakura-mochi, in the shade of the trees. These sweets are composed of a bright pink colored rice flour dough, inside which there is a sweet red bean filling. The sweet is wrapped and packaged with a Japanese cherry leaf (the leaves, fruits and cherry blossoms are edible) and is consumed accompanied by sake (rice distillate) or Japanese beer. Another particularly common custom for people who decide to get married in spring is to make the spouses drink an infusion based on cherry blossoms, as a wish for fertility and marital happiness.

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