The symbolism of cherry blossoms in Japan 桜花の意味
A thousand-year-old emblem
Traditionally associated with the hanami festivities, the cherry blossom is a very important symbol for the Japanese. Much more than just a flower, it's part of an age-old philosophy and today, the emblem of an entire nation.
A flower of introspection
The tradition of hanami appeared in Japan in the Heian period (794-1185). Literally "flower watching", hanami usually involves admiring cherry blossoms with family or friends.
Today, many take the opportunity to picnic and spend a pleasant time with family and friends, but it hasn't always been this way. And the contemplation of cherry trees has long been perceived as a philosophical activity more than anything else.
To read: Cherry blossom season in Japan
Based on the philosophy of mono no aware, appreciating the beauty of ephemeral things, hanami is an activity that encourages introspection.
Indeed, although the cherry blossoms are admired when they are still beautiful and in bloom with all their petals, they bloom and fade in record time before the eyes of those who contemplate them. With an average duration of two weeks, their time on earth is fleeting, much like the man who admires them.
In this sense, hanami reminds us that life is short and that we must make the most of it. The season of cherry blossoms also marks the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of the next, and invites each of us to take the time to think about our future desires and projects.
Today the cherry blossom still remains a moment of introspection turned towards the future. The blossoms announce the start of the new school year and the coming spring, and are a symbol of renewal and future happiness.
See also: Cherry blossom season: when to go?
Cherry blossoms in Taiwan
Cherry blossoms in South Korea
A national symbol
Poetic and philosophical, the cherry blossom is also a very important symbol of identity on the Japanese archipelago.
Since the Nara period (710-794), it has symbolized the Japanese government.
Originally chosen to set the country apart from China, whose emblem was the plum blossom, the cherry blossom has since been the subject of many misappropriations throughout Japanese history.
It was first associated with the Emperor's allies during the Civil War of 1868, then appropriated by the Meiji government (1868-1912) to establish its domination in several colonized countries. In Korea and Taiwan, several thousand cherry trees were planted to visually signify the Japanese occupation.
Previously deadly and oppressive, the cherry blossom became a symbol of hope and comfort during the Second World War.
Perceived as a familiar symbol for the Japanese, it was taken up by the government of the time to unify a nation weakened by war. Whether in the form of metaphors in political speeches or painted on kamikaze planes, the sakura was omnipresent and carried the hopes of a whole nation.
Today, the cherry blossom symbolizes Japan internationally. In particular, it serves as a diplomatic gift when officials are invited abroad.
Kamikaze pilots and their planes in the 1940s
A kamikaze plane
A cherry blossom on a kamikaze plane