We have entered the micro-season of “The First Cherry Blossoms”. This is the second micro-season of the mini season of Spring Equinox. Each mini season contains three micro-seasons.
The micro-seasons contained within this mini season are:
- The Sparrow Builds Her Nest (Mar 20 -Mar 24)
- The First Cherry Blossoms (Mar 25 – Mar 29)
- Thunder Raises its Voice (Mar 30 – Apr 03)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration into the natural world.
This micro-season honors the time when the cherry trees begin to bloom. The blossoms begin to appear in the southern provinces of Japan in early March and then move northward. The cherry blossoms are a sure sign that spring has arrived!
Hanami: “Flower Viewing”
The Japanese tradition of hanami, which translates to “flowering viewing”, is a way of honoring the beauty of these flowering trees.(1) Hanami is said to have originated during the Nara period (710-794 AD), and was reserved for those in the Japanese Royal Court.(2) When the tradition started, hanami was primarily celebrated under the Ume, or plum trees.
Now hanami can be enjoyed by everyone and is centered around the Sakura, or cherry blossom trees.
In celebrating hanami, people gather underneath the flowering trees for picnics and parties. Sometimes these celebrations go into the evening hours and are then called Yozakura. Yozakua translates to mean “night cherry blossoms.”(3) Yozakua is supposed to be especially magical with the addition of well-placed lights and traditional Japanese lanterns.
The Cherry Blossom Front
When the trees begin to bloom residents of Japan, and many foreign visitors, descend to the gardens and parks throughout the country to participate in the celebrations. In order to help people know where to go for the best sakura blooms, the Japan Meteorological Agency has something known as sakura-zensen or the “cherry blossom front”. The “cherry blossom front” forecasts of the movement of peak blooms across the country.
In 2022, the cherry blossom season started with the first bloom in Fukuoka on March 17. This was then followed by Tokyo’s first bloom on March 20.(5)
Cherry Blossom Festivals in the United States
Cherry blossom festivals are not limited to Japan. They have spread out across the globe to include locations such as Korea, China, Sweden, and the United States. Many of these festivals are connected back to Japan through the gifting of sakura.(2)
In the United States, one of the more notable cherry blossom festivals happens in Washington D.C. This tradition began in 1912 when the Japanese people presented trees to the people of the United States.(6) The trees were planted around the Tidal Basin in the West Potomac Park. When these trees are in bloom they provide “an explosion of life and color that surrounds the Tidal Basin in a sea of pale pink and white blossoms.”(6)
In 2022, The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC celebrates its 110th anniversary. The festival will run from March 20- April 17, and include several musical performances, a parade, and a kite festival. You can get more information about the festival at the event website.
Macon, Georgia is another notable cherry blossom festival in the United States. This year their International Cherry Blossom Festival will run from March 18 – March 27. The highlights of this festival include free nightly concerts, a balloon festival, and lots of food. You can find out more at their website.
Cherry Blossoms in Haiku and Song
Cherry blossoms has become so closely tied to the human experience that they have been the inspiration for songs and poetry. For example, during the Edo period in Japan (1603-1867) a folk song was written about the blooming of the cherry trees. This song is called “Sakura, Sakura”.
Lyrics for “Sakura, Sakura”
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, In fields, mountains and villages As far as the eye can see. Is it mist, or clouds? Fragrant in the rising sun. Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, Flowers in full bloom. Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, Across the spring sky, As far as the eye can see. Is it mist, or clouds? Fragrant in the air. Come now, come now, Let's go and see them.
You can listen to this song on YouTube
Basho, Buson, and Issa also all wrote haiku about the cherry blossom. I selected three out of the many potential haiku to choose from.
calling to mind all manner of things cherry blossoms (Matsuo Basho)
With cherry blossoms ends the day My house, distant-- A path through a field. (Yosa Buson)
cherry blossoms-- under every tree a Buddha on display (Kobayashi Issa)
If you have a favorite cherry blossom festival, or cherry blossom related haiku, feel free to share in the comments below.
- “Hanami”: Wikipedia
- “Japanese Cherry Blossom Festivals”: JRPass.com
- “Yozakura”: Kyuhoshi.com
- “Cherry Blossom Front”: Wikipedia
- “Japan Cherry Blossom 2022 Forecast”:Live Japan
- “Cherry Blossom Festival”: National Park Service
- “Sakura, Sakura”: Wikipedia
- Basho and Buson haiku were found on the World Kigo Database by Dr. Gabi Greve
- Issa haiku was found on Haiku Guy by David G. Lanoue. Lanoue has translated more than 200 haiku by Issa that reference cherry blossoms.
Looking for something else to read? The Naturalist Weekly bookstore has several curated lists of books about poetry and haiku. We even have gift cards that can be used throughout the store.
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I learned Sakura as a kid, and taught it to many students through the years. Timeless!
That is so cool! I bet it is a fun song to sing with students! Thanks so much for the comment and adding to the conversation. I hope all is well.
I like that Issa verse. One of my favourites.
Yes, I agree with that. That haiku is pretty great. Although, I like most of Issa’s work. Thanks for the comment!
Beautiful story of cherry blossom flowers and lovely 🌷👍🏻🙏 Happy Micro-Season 👏😊
Hi Thattamma, thank you and happy seasons to you!
The cherry blossoms bring back a memory of when I was about 10 years old. We played in an abandoned city lot where there was a cherry tree near a cinderblock wall beside the rubble from two demolished houses. I could climb into the low branches and sit among the flowers. In that urban setting, the beauty was such a precious thing.
What a great memory! It seems like these trees do well in urban and suburban areas. I am learning more about them and they are everywhere. Thanks for sharing! I hope all is well.
Ah, yes the Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. The trees are old and gnarly but they still bloom every year. Their petals come down like petal rain. My commuter bus always went by the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin, so I was there from the beginning to the end. It is a sight to behold.
Wow. That is very cool. I have never seen them in person, and I don’t think the bloom cam does justice to the experience. Thanks for the comment! I hope all is well.
This is such a wonderful season for blooms. The cherry blossoms in DC are spectacular1
Hi Dwight, I hope to get down there to see them one day. Any sort of blossoms seem a long way away up here. We just got another couple of inches of snow and it was 10 degrees this morning.
Oh wow! It is in the 50s here and going up the end of the week. It won’t be long till spring gets to you!
Mark thank you for all of that good information about cherry blossoms and the festivals around the world. I know Toronto also has quite a lot of trees but I forgot the name of the park they are in.
Hi Lisa, Thanks for the information about Toronto. I didn’t know about that one. Thanks for your continued support!
You’re welcome, Mark. I appreciate your posts. They are always informative and uplifting.
There’s no place I’d rather be than in Japan in the springtime experiencing the sakura. It’s a bucket-list item of mine. I’ve seen plenty of photos of the proliferation of pink buds in Japan but to experience it in person would be magical. The haiku you’ve listed here are perfect for the season, the imagery so vivid (I especially liked Buson’s haiku, with his path home through a field). Thanks for another wonderfully written and researched piece, Mark. 🙂
Hi Mike, Thanks for the comment and continued support. Yes, I total agree about Buson haiku. I really thought it fit perfectly with this post. I hope all is well. Talk soon,
It’s not a formal event for the average Japanese person. It’s a lovely excuse to hang out under the cherry trees on a blanket with your family and friends getting drunk on sake in your bathrobe (or yukata). A day’s long picnic in the park. I have fond memories and have usually planed my trips to Japan to do just this with my friends there. There is a funny saying, “To drink like a fish.” I typically don’t drink alcohol very often, but I do love a good hot sake (O-sake) just like a Japanese Grandpa! Hahaha. When I go to Japan I spend as much time talking to my friends’ dads about sake, moss gardening and “kids these days” as I do spending time with my friends themselves.
Hi Melanie, Thanks for sharing this. I am not much of a sake drinker, but if I was I think drinking it in the park in my bathrobe sounds like the way to go! But I might want to wait to try that until I get to Japan during the hanami. I have a feeling I would get arrested if I tried to do that in the States. Thanks again for sharing.