12 unusual things you didn’t know about Japanese cherry blossom
The Japanese cherry blossom tree is one of the country’s most iconic symbols and is often regarded as its unofficial national flower. It's also a major reason why travellers dream of visiting Japan in spring.
They're loved for their delicate blossoms, which the Japanese celebrate each spring with parties and picnics among the trees, and are planted in public parks all over the country.
You can join an exclusive cruise to see the cherry blossom with Good Housekeeping to see the beautiful flowers in bloom in 2024.
On our cherry blossom cruise, you’ll visit Yokohama, Osaka, Hiroshima and more on a 14-night sailing aboard Holland America Line's MS Westerdam.
Ahead of our unforgettable holiday to Japan, here are 12 unusual facts about the Japanese cherry blossom, or sakura...
1. Scientists are working on creating a second Japanese cherry blossom season
Botanists at Kyoto University have stumbled on a way of genetically modifying the sakura so that it blossoms in spring and autumn. They made the discovery while trying to create a rice grain that could be harvested more than once.
While they’ve not quite achieved a tasty enough grain to bring to market, applying the same method to the cherry blossom has shown promising results.
2. The blooms only last a week
Once the cherry blossom trees have flowered, their delicate beauty usually only lasts a week, with the petals constantly falling to the ground and carpeting it in a swathe of pink.
It’s also part of why the blossoms can represent fragility and fleeting beauty in Japanese culture.
3. Once the petals have fallen, cherry blossom season (hanami) is over
The new period is called hazakura, which is the name for the time between the petals all falling off the trees and the new leaves budding.
4. The sakura are constantly mutating
There are more than 600 different species of sakura flower, including a number of hybrids, with changes appearing in the number of petals, the size of the flower, changes in their colour, and differing yields of fruit.
5. The number of petals give the flowers their names
Flowers that have five petals (or less) are known as hitoe, while those than have between five and 10 petals are called hanyae. If the flowers have more than 10 petals they are called yae.
6. Japan is home to a 2,000-year-old sakura tree
It’s the oldest cherry blossom tree in Japan and can be found at the Jissou Temple in Yamanashi Prefecture. Called the Jindai Zakura, this mighty sakura tree has a huge root circumference of 13.5 metres.
7. The petals and leaves are eaten
The petals and leaves are first soaked in a salt solution, in a process known as shiozuke to produce sakurazuke – the name for the edible leaves and petals.
That’s then either put on bread or wrapped around the popular Japanese sweet treat known as mochi, made from a rice paste and eaten during hanami season.
8. Blossom tea is also popular in Japan
Sakurazuke leaves can also be put in hot water to create a cherry blossom tea. As the leaf diffuses into the water and infuses it with colour, it gives it a beautiful pink hue and delicate flavour. The tea is often drunk on special occasions, such as weddings.
9. The Japanese year follows the blossom
The new business and academic year in Japan begins in April with the blossoming of the trees, giving you a chance to socialise and get to know your new work and study mates during the celebrations.
10. Sakurako is a popular name in Japan
Ko means child in Japanese, and Sakurako, child of the cherry blossom, is a popular girls’ name.
11. The trees actually produce cherries
Coming out in the summer after the blooms have disappeared, the trees’ small, sour tasting cherries aren’t edible for humans – but birds love to snack on them!
12. They’re blossoming earlier
Due to climate change, the cherry blossom season has been consistently falling earlier in the year. Celebrations used to take place in early May, but have gradually moved forward in the calendar. 2021 saw the earliest peak – on 26th March in Kyoto – since records began more than 1,200 years ago.
Book your place on a cruise around Japan during the cherry blossom season.
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