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Why Cherry Blossoms (Sakura) have such a big role in Manga and anime

In Manga, Anime, and Webtoons there are often occasions when the protagonists either stand behind a cherry blossom tree and kiss while the petals are romantically falling down, or they go on a picnic to view the cherry blossoms specifically. Like in A condition called love for example:

(c) Megumi Morino / Kodansha Ltd

So where is this tradition coming from and what do Sakura and Hanami even mean?

Sakura (桜 or 櫻; さくら or サクラ in Japanese) means cherry blossom and is considered the national flower of Japan. The term often refers to ornamental cherry trees from the genus Prunus.

Cherry Blossoms (Sakura) in Manga: Hanami (花見) meaning

Hanami, which translates to “flower viewing,” is a traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, particularly cherry blossoms (sakura). It is celebrated throughout Japan, both as a personal and social activity. While a simple stroll in the park can be referred to as hanami, the practice typically involves gathering with family, friends, or colleagues for a picnic under the blooming cherry trees.

Historical Context

  • Nara Period (710-794): The custom of hanami was first documented, but it was exclusive to the elite of the Imperial Court.
  • Heian Period (794-1185): Hanami became more associated with cherry blossoms, gaining popularity among the aristocracy.
  • Edo Period (1603-1868): The practice spread widely among the general populace. It became common to enjoy sake and food under the trees during hanami.

Modern Hanami Practices

Today, hanami remains a cherished tradition in Japan. Parks and gardens across the country become filled with people enjoying the blossoms and participating in various festivities. The celebration often includes:

  • Picnics: Sharing food and drinks under the cherry trees.
  • Night Viewing (Yozakura): Viewing illuminated cherry blossoms at night.
  • Seasonal Foods: Special treats like sakura mochi and other cherry blossom-themed delicacies.
(c) Megumi Morino / Kodansha Ltd

Cultural Significance

Hanami embodies the Japanese appreciation for the transient beauty of nature, reflecting the philosophical concept of “mono no aware” – the awareness of the impermanence of things. The cherry blossoms’ brief blooming period is a poignant reminder of life’s fleeting moments, making hanami a time for reflection and celebration of life’s ephemerality.

Sakura in Japan: symbolic meaning

When the cherry blossoms begin to bloom it marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The transcience of life, which is a major theme in Buddhism is also represented in the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms, as they only bloom for a short amount of time every year. So the Japanese remind themselves every year that life is short and celebrate the present. In China, the cherry blossoms stand for love, beauty, and sexuality. Japanese poetry also often focuses on that meaning of the Sakura, so there are many meanings of the cherry blossoms that can’t be narrowed down only to Japan.

Cherry blossoms in Nara
(c) BestinRomance

The cherry blossom petals are said to symbolize the souls of fallen Samurai, that feared death but sacrificed their life anyway. This theme was also used in World War II where the Japanese spirit was shown through cherry blossoms as the warriors were supposed to be ready to throw their life away – like falling cherry petals. They also painted cherry blossoms on the sides of their plains, before embarking on a suicide mission.

Which month is the cherry blossom in Japan?

(c) Megumi Morino / Kodansha Ltd

The cherry blossoms start to bloom first in the south around Kumamoto. In Tokyo, the cherry blossom season starts at the end of March. In Sapporo, in the North of Japan, you can view the cherry blossoms till the end of April and the beginning of March. So it depends where you want to travel to. There is a very detailed travel guide for Japan, where you can check out the exact time for every region: Japan guide.

(c) BestinRomance

Around Osaka, there is a huge park with many trees, but they also planted Ume – plum trees. The plum blossom is considered the National Flower of China. It is even painted on some of the airplanes from Chian Airlines. The plum blossom is also a symbol of spring, but mainly in Korea. In Japan, the plum blossom is considered a protective charm that helps against evil and is therefore often planted in the garden around the house.

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I have read more than 1000 Romance Manhwa, Webtoons and Manga - TV-Series and books not included. So I hope to bring a deep and nuanced understanding of the genre to every review and recommendation. As a journalist with seven years of experience, I've dedicated my free time to exploring and writing about the intricacies of romance in various forms.

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