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Cherry blossoms in Japan

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The meaning of cherry blossoms in Japan runs deep, making the country’s national flower a cultural icon revered around the world not just for its overwhelming beauty, but for its enduring expression of life, death and renewal, published Not Without My Passport earlier.

Cherry blossoms, also known as sakura in Japan, are the small, delicate pink flowers produced by cherry blossom trees. The springtime bloom is a lavish spectacle but remarkably brief; after only two weeks, they drop to the ground and wither, falling like snow with the ebb and flow of the winds. As flowers native to Asia, they can also be found in China, South Korea and India, but today they enjoy worldwide blooming.

Cherry blossoms hold elevated status in China, signifying love and the female mystique (beauty, strength and sexuality), but nowhere in the world are the elusive flowers more cherished than in Japan, home to thousands of cherry blossom trees. The floral imagery permeates Japanese paintings, film and poetry.

Every April, families and friends across the country ceremoniously gather in large groups for hanami and elaborate feasts with music under giant, feathery canopies of soft pink.

Tied to the Buddhist themes of mortality, mindfulness and living in the present, Japanese cherry blossoms are a timeless metaphor for human existence. Blooming season is powerful, glorious and intoxicating, but tragically short-lived — a visual reminder that our lives, too, are fleeting.

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On Japan's southern, subtropical islands of Okinawa, cherry blossoms open as early as January, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, they bloom as late as May. In most major cities in between, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place in early April, reported Japan Guide; Cherry Blossom Forecast.

Furthermore, the blooming time of cherry trees differs from year to year depending on the weather. If the weather during the months and weeks preceding the cherry blossom season is mild, blossoms will open early. If it is cold, blossoms will open later. From year to year, the start of the blooming season typically varies by plus/minus one week, but larger deviations are also possible.

The cherry blossom season is relatively short. Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms (kaika). Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees. Strong wind and rain can cut the blooming season even shorter.

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