In Japan the cherry blossoms or Sakura have a very strong symbolic importance to the people. As far back as 794 cherry trees were planted in Japan because of their beauty. They were originally meant to adorn the grounds of the nobility but it eventually became a practice that was prized by everyone. It was around this time that the Japanese sought to emulate the Chinese practice of flower viewing, where people would gather en masse to witness the blossoming of the trees.
Today in Japan the Japanese Meteorological Society keeps track of the Sakura zensen or the Cherry Blossom front and predicts when the cherry blossoms will blossom in each area. The blossoming season begins in January in Okinawa and will then reach Tokyo by late March or early April and a few weeks later it ends in Hokkaido. When it comes time for the trees to blossom the people will come out in large numbers to parks or gardens to hold parties and witness the blossoming of the trees just like their ancestors did centuries before.
For the Japanese the cherry blossom represents the transience of life with the blossoms opening for a display of extreme beauty and leading to a quick death. They are also a symbol of good fortune and of affection and love. The cherry blossom has also been a symbol of Japanese territory as the emperor would plant cherry blossom trees as a way to symbolize ownership over the colonial territories that it claimed.
During World War II the importance of the cherry blossom was used as a way to build nationalism and militarism among the people. Japanese pilots would paint them on their planes or even carry some cherry blossom branches with them before going on a suicide mission. The practice became so widespread and well-known that a falling cherry blossom has now come to represent the sacrifice of youth in suicide missions in order to honor the emperor.
The cherry blossom tree is often seen in most Japanese art, movies, books, theater and anime because the trees have a deep importance with the people. Their profound meaning also lends a breathtaking ambient effect. The cherry blossom is also incorporated into a number of different products in Japan as well.
For many people outside of Japan the true meaning of the cherry blossoms cannot be fully understood or felt. But the magnificent beauty and the thrill of watching these flowers bloom all at once is so spectacular that anyone can appreciate it.