Awesome Facts About Sakura Trees

Sakura, or cherry blossom, has become synonymous with spring in Japan. Many tourists make the long travel to the country just in time for sakura season, when countless delicate pink flowers bloom overhead. But aside from this gorgeous sight, there’s a lot to learn from Japan’s national flower — especially since they’re deeply embedded in local culture. Here are some awesome facts about sakura trees you may not know about.

Sakura trees aren’t native to Japan 

Believe it or not, cherry blossom trees aren’t actually endemic to Japan. Instead, scholars believe that they originated in Eurasia, possibly in the Himalayan region. They were then brought to Japan before the prehistoric age. There are now at least 300 sakura species all over the country, the most common being somei yoshino, which is characterized by white flowers with just five petals. Some varieties, like the deep pink kanzan, can have as many as 50 petals per blossom, while kikuzakura flowers boast 80-130 soft pink petals. 

Picnics under sakura trees are national tradition

If you visit one of Japan’s beautiful parks in spring, you’ll notice that they are filled with people having picnics. This is called hanami, a national tradition which we have covered here on Okinawa Hai. Pack some food and a blanket, and enjoy the flowers in full bloom with family and friends.

Predicting sakura season is a real job

Most sakura flowers only have a lifespan of 14 days, and usually reach full bloom in early April. In Okinawa, this happens sometime in mid-January. Since sakura season is a major driver of local tourism, there are actually professionals who specialize in predicting it. Quartz reports that meteorologists who predict the timeline of sakura season rely on national weather agencies, algorithms, park managers, and thousands of citizens who pledge to monitor their local trees. It takes a lot of work, but it helps businesses and tourists plan accordingly. 

US sakura trees were a gift from Japan

Aside from Japan, Washington, D.C. is also a popular site for cherry blossoms. In 1909, a food explorer named David Fairchild fell in love with the beautiful trees and decided to bring them to the US. Then-president William Howard Taft saw this as an opportunity to strengthen relations with Japan, who obliged by providing 300 trees.

They sparked pop culture interest

(Image credit: Rilakkuma and Kaoru Facebook)

The global interest in sakura is undeniable. The flower continues to appear in different forms of pop culture in and out of Japan, and is most commonly depicted in countless anime shows like Samurai X: Reflection and Clannad. The recently released Netflix show Rilakkuma and Kaoru also features Kaoru contemplating her life and friendships under blossoming trees, which is really symbolic. Influences of Japanese culture are also evident in games on Expatbets too, such as Dragon Shrine and Sakura Fortune. These just go to show how popular the sakura has become. But the obsession with sakura trees doesn’t end with pop culture. They can also be found in products like Starbucks’ cherry blossom-themed tumblers, notebooks, and of course, drinks. Other sakura-themed goods include fragrances, shampoo, and other beauty products. 

You can eat them!

(Image credit: Gurunavi)

Sakura petals and leaves are actually available for purchase in Japanese grocery stores. They can be used for cooking and turning into loose tea leaves. Some even ferment the flowers and make beer out of them.

All in all, watching the full bloom of sakura trees is definitely a sight that you don’t want to miss. Okinawa has plenty of spots for cherry blossom viewing at the start of the year, so keep that in mind for your next visit.