Brooke Peterson

Sakura Matsuri

It is spring!  Flowers are blooming, the grass is getting greener, trees are flourishing with leaves, and almost everyone seems a little bit happier.  The Japanese feel this way as well during their season of spring, but what places a bounce in their step is the beautiful cherry blossoms.  The cherry tree is so popular in Japan that it is even seen in traditional art work.  Take for example, Toshi Yoshida’s woodblock print Heirinji Temple Bell.  In this print, Yoshida captures that beautiful moment during the beginning of spring when these blossoms begin to flourish throughout Japan.  As the monk in the background strikes the temple bell and ringing tones pierce the surrounding air, so do the cherry blossoms.  In fact, these blooming cherries are so stunning that there is an entire festival, called Sakura Matsuri, devoted to them.  In Japan, this festival has a unique history and significance, and includes a specific way and time in which to view and celebrate the blossoms.

According to the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, “The name sakura is generally used for those species of cherry appreciated for the beauty of their blossoms rather than those grown for their fruit” (269).  Japan is often called the “land of flowers,” because it has the most species and widest variety of cherry trees, especially the flower bearing ones (sakura), in the entire world.  These blossoms have been around for ages and have a history to them that dates back as far as the eighth century.  Midori Theil, in his article Sakura Matsuri: The Cherry Blossom Festival, describes particular events of the past that relate to this tradition best:

From ancient times the people of Japan have celebrated the Cherry Blossom Festival as hanami: Flower Viewing.  In the eighth century and earlier, the Japanese offered prayers while under the flowering cherry trees in special ritual for the fertility of the earth.  The Hitachinokuni Fudoki, an eighth century guide to famous places, describes singing and dancing among the flowers after climbing Mount Tsukuba.  During the Heian period the imperial court held a banquet on the day of hanami to mark the change of the seasons.  Later in the Kamakura period (late 12th-14th c.) the warriors always considered the cherry blossoms the symbol of a life lived fully, no matter how short, and the ritual of cherry blossoms continued. (1)

The traditions of hanami that the people of Japan practice today greatly resemble those of the Edo period (17th-19th c.).  During this time, the people of Edo (present day Tokyo) would go out in their finest attire on flower-viewing excursions:

They would go to the cherry groves at Uyeno or Mukojima, to noted gardens, or to the compound of temples where cherries were blooming, and spend the whole day enjoying their floral beauty to the full. (Miyoshi 23)

Some celebrated hanami not only by “viewing” the blossoms, but also by holding dancing and poetry competitions beneath the cherry trees.  Most people would even bring a picnic to eat there as well in order to prolong their time spent during these delightful festivities.  The pleasure of flower viewing was not only limited to the people of Edo, but it was also a popular event among all people of Japan across the whole countryside.  Hence, a national custom was formed in honor of hanami that is still carried on to this day.

Today, the people of Japan gasp with joy at the sign of the first cherry blossom.  There are even radio reports announcing the state and the whereabouts of the sprouting blossoms so people can go on a viewing spree across the country.  “Usually, the Cherry Blossom front begins in Okinawa in the south in March.  Then it sweeps northward in April and finally reaches Hokkaido in May” (Theil 1).  Audrey Kobayashi, who wrote about cherry blossoms in the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture, depicts the events of hanami as follows:

Families gather for picnics, often in large organized groups of company employees, with sumptuous picnic baskets.  The sense of awe and wonder increased whenever a slight breeze sends thousands of petals showering down upon entranced viewers.  The festive atmosphere is enlivened by sake consumption, enough of which may still provide an inspiration for the composition of haiku poetry.  More commonly, however, today’s poetic tributes are expressed by karaoke, sung under the stars using portable tape machines, and lights to enhance night viewing. (63)

With this said, one can see the similarities between hanami celebration traditions during the Edo era and those of today.

Spring is a joyous time of year in Japan.  It is the season when the country’s favorite flower, the cherry blossom, bursts into bloom.  Since these blossoms are so beautiful the festival Sakura Matsuri is completely devoted to showing appreciation towards these cherry buds.  People across the whole countryside go out to parks and spend morning till night viewing these heavenly blossoms sprouting forth from the cherry trees.  If they do so at exactly the right time during the season, the trees will be exploding with the buds to the point where they fall off and float gracefully through the air.  It seems as though the air is full of butterflies when this moment takes place.  The people of Japan appreciate the simplicity, beauty, and fulfilling yet short life of these cherry blossoms.  Hence, Sakura Matsuri not only celebrates the natural beauty of the blossoms, but also the significance behind them.

Works Cited

Kobayashi, Audrey. “cherry blossoms.” Encyclopedia of contemporary Japanese culture. 2002.

Miyoshi, Manuba. Sakura—Japanese Cherry. Tokyo: Maruzen Company LTD, 1935.

Osamu, Matsuda. “cherry, flowering.” Kodansha encyclopedia of Japan. 1st ed. 1983.

Theil, Midori. “Sakura Matsuri: The Cherry Blossom Festival.” Folk Arts. 3 May 2006. <>.

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