Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Sakura - Cherry Blossom

While ume was the most popular spring flower during the Nara period (8th century), since the Heian period (794-1185 sakura (cherry blossom) has enjoyed greater popularity. So much so, that for centuries their beauty has been enjoyed and celebrated at Hanami (flower viewing). From mid January to early May sakura bloom throughout Japan but the blossoms only last a week or two so the Meteorological Agency gives nightly updates after the weather forecast to track the sakura zensen (cherry-blossom front) as it moves northward. In modern day Japan, outdoor parties beneath the sakura have become popular. The better known parks, shrines and temples can become crowded with people picnicking, strolling and enjoying the scent as well as the visual display. Some venues hang paper lanterns especially for yozakura (night sakura). Sakura represents spring and new beginnings; it is considered an omen of good fortune and is also an emblem of love and affection. The transient nature of the blossoms, which fall at the height of their beauty before withering, came to represent the samurai warrior who would sacrifice his life for the honour and protection of the emperor. During World War II, Japanese pilots would paint sakura on the sides of their planes or even take branches of the trees with them on missions. Falling cherry petals came to represent the sacrifice of youth. Cherry trees come in a great number of varieties. Most of the wild trees have blossoms with five petals but cultivated varieties can have five, 10, 20 or many, many more petals. The blossoms can be white or any shade of pink imaginable. Sakura are very similar to ume blossom but are easily recognised by the small indented ‘v’ on the edge of each petal. All the techniques used to stitch ume can be used for sakura and like ume, sakura may be stitched with or without branches. One notable difference is that sakura may be depicted with leaves, where as ume never is.