Sakura is the Japanese name for cherry blossoms (櫻; さくら). In the spring, between the months of late March through May is when Sakura is in full bloom. These beautiful flowers are a sight to see as it gently floats in the wind and covers the grounds in pink and white petals. In Japan, Sakura are often used to relate to human life because of its beauty and life cycle. Because of this spectacular association, Sakura is used in many artworks including anime, manga, films, and musical performances. The pink and white cherry blossom trees have been a long standing symbol for Japan. Because of this, Sakura is used in a variety of ways including to create a sense of tranquility, to motivate others, and in cooking.
Since the Nara Period (710–794) in Japan, Sakura were already incorporated into the lives of the Japanese. Picnicking under these cherry blossom trees occurred often as it proved a sense of luxury and beauty to whoever is spending time under these beautiful trees. As a sign of luxury, it was only limited to the high officials of the Imperial Palace. Much later, in the Edo period (1603 – 1867), was when other people like Japanese commoners were also permitted to do this under the public planted ones. This tradition has passed down to modern day, and many families today enjoy a picnic meal while viewing the cherry blossoms together.
Besides providing a nice view for Japanese families during picnics, it was also used to motivate Japanese soldiers during World War II (1939 – 1945). Sakura stoked nationalism and militarism to the tired soldiers as a way to remind them to keep their spirits up and keep going. In symbolism, Sakura were used to describe the sacrificed soldiers’ beauty but shortened lives to help others from being too saddened from their death.
Other than playing an important role to soldiers back then, Sakura can also be used in cooking as the petals are edible. The most popular way of using cherry blossom petals is to marinate/pickle them. A beverage that is often served at Japanese weddings is “Sakurayu” which is tea made from the pickled Sakura petals boiled with water. Sakura is also present in Japanese confectionary products. For example, one would use the Japanese pickled petals, soaked in salt and umezu (ume vinegar), as an ingredient in “wagashi”. Wagashi is a traditional Japanese pastry, typically served with tea. The pickled petals may also be used in sweet red bean buns.
Since history, Sakura has been presented as important symbol, motivation, and cooking ingredient in Japanese people’s lives. Today, it is possible to admire these beautiful cherry blossoms in America. Japan has gifted several cherry blossom trees to the United States and they are available for viewing each year in Washington, DC during the spring. The Cherry Blossom Festival held each year is a popular event for viewing the beautiful Sakura while enjoying the cultural events of Japan. This year, the festival will be on April 12 from 10AM – 12PM. We have posted up a Meetup activity for this year’s Sakura’s viewing, you may visit our Meetup page if you would like to arrange a trip with other families in our community to see this year’s wonderful Sakura in full bloom!
Submitted by Irene Lam