Anyone who has ever traveled to Washington D.C. during spring has seen cherry trees exploding with blossoms. This city celebrated the first cherry blossom festival in 1935. In Asiam flowering wild cherry trees called sakura (Prunus avium) feature predominantly in landscaping. In this part of the world you will find over 200 varieties of cherry trees.
The Japanese Meteorological agency tracks the progression of cherry blossoms throughout the island. The tree's flowering announces spring's arrival and the promise of warmer weather. Blossoms start appearing in January in the region of Okinawa. Finally, the flowers open in late March in Tokyo. The information on the flower's progression goes to the public in regular reports. People make a pastime of cherry blossom viewing as a way to welcome the season and enjoy the tree's beauty.
Feminine strength and sensuality
In his book "A Passage through China," ambassador and journalist Lee Khoon Choy explains that the traditional symbolic value for cherry blossoms is feminine dominance or sensuality. If given as a gift, the flower represents love.
In Lafacdio Hearn's short story entitled "Jiu-roku-zakura," he gives cherry blossoms the value of loving sacrifice. In this tale the famous tree in the Iyo district bears the name Jiu-roku-zakura, or "the Cherry tree of the Sixteenth Day." The story goes that a samurai of Iyo had the tree in his garden where it had grown for over one hundred years. Here he and his family hung poems on the branches. As the samurai aged, the tree began dying. When the last leaf fell dry to the ground he was heartbroken. Being brave and honorable, he came up with a way to save the tree by giving his life in its stead. He committed ritual suicide under the tree giving his life essence to the tree. Within one hour, on that sixteenth day of the first month, the tree bore cherry blossoms and continues to live to this day.
Additionally, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin explains that Kamikaze pilots used cherry blossoms as a symbol for their operations. The reason for the choice was that cherry blossoms fall and die very quickly, similar to how the kamikaze pilots gave their life for their country.
In the early 1900s, the government of Japan sent 3,000 cherry trees as a symbol of friendship to the government of the United States. After World War II, the leaders in Washington sent blossoming cherry trees back to Japan as a gesture of good will from which they could begin replenishing those lost to war.
Strength and Flexibility
Kodokan, the world wide Judo institute, features cherry tree blossoms in their emblem. Because the flower falls to its death when it's in full bloom, the group regards it as representing individual maturity. From a place of wisdom, the Judo practitioner grows strong inside, while remaining gentle and flexible in spirit.
Cherry blossoms have short bloom times and are very fragile. As a result, the Japanese, particularly Buddhists, see them as a metaphor for life's transience. They also represent warriors who die young.