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Cherry blossom trees in bloom in Washington, D. After a chilly start to spring on the East Coast, cherry trees are in full bloom in Washington, D. Students visit the trees taking a half or full day off from lessons. Neighborhoods organize their own viewings. Companies send their newest employees to stake out areas for corporate picnicking under the trees. When the flowers burst out of their buds, the Japanese people celebrate their New Year with food, dance and music, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, a Japanese-American anthropologist, explained.

Of the original 3, trees given to the U. Learn about research geneticists are cloning the original trees.

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Ohnuki-Tierney walked with her class every year to view the cherry trees. Only after becoming an anthropologist did Ohnuki-Tierney ask why the cherry blossom is such a revered symbol in Japan. The trees have been used as symbols for everything from predicting successful harvests of rice to giving the World War II kamikaze pilots courage for their one-way missions. Here is a history of the cherry blossom and its evolving meaning, from ancient Japan to current day.

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During this period, the Japanese begin to transplant cherry trees from the mountains to areas where people lived. The cherry trees were connected to beliefs in Japanese folk religions; many Japanese would go into the mountains during the spring to worship the trees. The trees were seen as sacred, since they were considered to carry the soul of the mountain gods down to humans. Ohnuki-Tierney says that every spring, the mountain deity traveled down to the fields on the falling petals of cherry blossoms and transformed into the deity of the rice paddies, a critical crop for Japanese agriculture and productivity.

Cherry blossom viewings, therefore, began from religious rituals. The Tang Dynasty of China was at its height of cultural, economic and military influence. The empress, threatened by Chinese culture seeping into the country, sought to establish a unique Japanese identity that proved Japanese culture developed autonomous to other regions. While the Chinese prize the plum blossoms, the aristocracy of Japan raised the cherry blossom to new status.

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The ritual of hanami — elaborate cherry blossom viewing ceremonies and celebrations with singing, dancing, and drinking — began at the imperial courts, practiced by elite classes, but commoners also celebrated in rural areas. Yoritomo and the Minamoto clan seized power from the aristocracy establish a military government in Kamakura.

Minamoto no Yoritomo defeated other powerful Japanese families to seize control of certain functions of the government and aristocracy. Minamoto then established a feudal system, with a private military known as the samurai who also had some political powers.

The daimyo or warlord Asano Naganori captured this sentiment before committing ritual suicide:. Vaporis also said that the Samurai decorated their military equipment with emblems of the cherry blossom, especially sword guards. Emperor Meiji inonly four years after he restored the position of emperor as the sovereign authority of Japan.

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Emperor Meiji reclaimed all the governing authority from the position of the shoguns military leaders and asserted that the emperor held supreme authority, establishing the Empire of Japan. The samurai lost their social status and privileges. Cherry blossoms are planted at the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial specifically devoted to fallen soldiers since the Meiji period that the emperor visits occasionally. The cherry blossoms were supposed to console the souls of the soldiers. Photo by NewsHour. The Japanese government sends cherry trees to Washington on behalf of the people of Japan.

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The gift came after William Howard Taft was elected president and took office. Japan has given cherry trees to many other countries besides the U. A tokkotai or kamikazi plane with a cherry blossom painted on its side.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons. Nearing defeat, Japanese vice-admiral Onishi Takijiro launched kamikaze operations as a last ditch effort to save the Japanese homeland and the Japanese spirit. Tokkotai pilots affixed cherry blossom branches to their uniforms, with painted blossoms on sides of their planes. The cherry blossoms at the Yasukuni Shrine no longer mourn for the souls of the Japanese. Each petal that fell was meant to represent each soldier who had died trying to protect the nation of Japan.

An aerial view shows debris that remained on the ground after a tsunami wave to have hit Hitachinaka.

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The plants are hanging in there, so us humans had better do it, too. For many Japanese, the cherry trees were part of the life they knew prior to the renewal and rebuilding in the face of so much death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Support Provided By: Learn more. Sunday, Aug The Latest. World Agents for Change.

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Leave a comment. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter. A samurai on horseback from the Momoyama period, at the turn of the 16th century.

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