This is Japan’s most beautiful and popular national festival, and also celebrates the ritual of ‘Hinami’ or ‘looking at flowers’, while ‘Sakura’ means ‘flowering Cherry Trees’.
Hinami was established as a ritual in 710, to pay tribute to mountain deities that protect the rice fields and as cherry blossom trees signified agricultural reproduction, the Japanese people travelled to the mountains to worship the flowering trees every spring.
It all started during the Heian Period at end of 700, when in the Imperial Court gardens local aristocrats would read Chinese poems celebrating the transient beauty of flowering blossoms as well as engage in other artistic endeavors, such as calligraphy, flower arrangement and painting.
By the 1500’s, a warlord named Toyotomi Hideyoshi legitimized the Samurai as warrior and protector of aristocratic cultural practices, to equal that of the Imperial Court.
The life of a Samurai was seen following a strict moral code of respect, honor and discipline that at any moment may be cut short in battle. Therefore, the life of a Samurai was likened to the Sakura, beautiful but fleeting. There is a Japanese saying, “hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi” which means “for flowers there is Sakura, for men there is the Samurai”.
Figure 1: Red Sakura blooming and flying into a teacup.
Every spring, Cherry Blossoms provide in Japan a lavish spectacle which is but remarkably brief. Within a fortnight the petals drop to the ground and wither. A fallen cherry blossom symbolizes end of a short life.
Origin of Cherry Blossom Festival
The origin of the Cherry Blossom Festival actually began in 1912 when Japan gifted 3,000 Cherry Trees to the United States.
It was a historic event when the wife of the Japanese Ambassador planted the first two Cherry trees in Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.
This was a landmark event for Japanese culture and people around the world began celebrating the seasonal Cherry Blossom Festival.
Figure 2: Beautiful ladies in Kimono under a white Sakura.
The first cherry blossoms usually blossom in the southern islands of Okinawa, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, they bloom much later.
In most large cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season takes place around the end of March and the beginning of April.
Although Japan’s national flower is the chrysanthemum, it is the Cherry Blossom that is the most popular.
Figure 3: Japanese women joyfully playing in the midst of a jungle of pink Sakura.
Satsuma Ceramic Ware
Origins of Satsuma Ceramic Ware date back to late 16th century in Kyushu island, southwest of Japan during the Genroku Era.
Satsuma Ceramics gained International recognition at the Paris Expo in 1867 and became one of the most recognized and profitable export products of Japan.
Two typical Kyo-Satsuma ceramic plates, made by master artist Kinkozan, depict a young woman in a Kimono playing under pink blossoming Sakura tree in the Spring. (Figure 1)
The other Satsuma plate shows six aristocrats, the Fuji mountain and a clear blue lake.
The expressions on the faces of the young women are serene and radiant. Although a bit sad, they are fully enjoying life by playing with the candle or catching the flowers flying under the night light. (Figure 2)
The other plate is decorated with a landscape showing a high mountain covered with fog and flowers blooming in the spring sunshine. Prominent are figures of nine women draped in shawls, slippers and tying prayer slips onto branches while plucking flowers to take home.
The serene natural features of the young woman wearing a colorful Kimono and a contented smile proves Japan’s resilience to rise after the war. (Figure 3)