Cherry Blossoms (or sakura 桜) is a big deal in Japan so naturally I was excited to see this while living here. I decided to head up to the north part of Okinawa, to Nakijin Castle (castle in Japanese is jo) to view these pretty pink blossoms. Nakijin Castle (今帰仁城 Nakijin Gusuku) is a Ryukyuan castle currently in ruins and was the capital of Hokuzan (one of the three principalities of the Ryukyus in the late 14th century). Today it is known for the Hikan cherries which bloom in northern Okinawa between mid-January and early February, providing the first cherry blossoms each year in Japan.
Why are cherry blossoms so important in Japan? Great question! Glad you asked. #preparetobeeducated
“Hanami” (cherry blossom viewing) is an old Japanese spring tradition that has been practiced for centuries. The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. In Japan, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short (a major theme in Buddhism); so when the cherry blossom trees bloom for a short time each year in brilliant force, they serve as a visual reminder of how precious and how precarious life is. So, when Japanese people come together to view the cherry blossom trees and marvel at their beauty, they aren’t just thinking about the flowers themselves, but also about the larger meaning and deep cultural tradition the cherry blossom tree.
In addition, most cherry blossoms start in mainland Japan around April. April is the month when the new school year starts for Japanese children; it's also the month when companies start their new business years and when many new graduates start to work. So the cherry blossoms make people think of new beginnings. When they are in bloom, people make special visits to parks and other spots with many cherry trees; often they have picnics under the branches with family and friends.
Japan has more types of cherry trees than any other country, over 200 in all. In 1912, Japan gave more than 3,000 cherry-blossom trees to the United States as a gift to honor the growing bond between the two countries. The cherry blossom trees symbolize friendship between nations, the renewal of spring and the ephemeral nature of life. #bestfriends
The cherry blossom (or sakura) trees start blooming in Japan beginning first in Okinawa in late February/beginning of January, and works it way up Japan to northern Hokkaido in May. (Nate and I were lucky enough to also witness these beautiful blossoms in Tokyo in April this year).
The picture below on the right is a furnace they found in the ruins here. Based on seeds and porcelain excavated from the ruins suggest this furnace was used in the later half of the 14th century until around the first half of the 15th century.
The flower petals of the Kanhizakuraare (located in Okinawa) are a dark pink color which contrasts from the Somei-Yoshinocherry trees with lighter pink/white blossoms commonly seen in mainland Japan.
The monument below has a poem inscribed in it. This poem is for Shigema (a village south of Nakijin) where Utudaru, a woman of great beauty resided. People throughout the kingdom talked about this maiden with beautiful black hair and soon she became known as Nakijin Ukami (goddess of Nakijin) and served as the concubine of the Sanhoku King. She lived in the castle with happiness and without worry but soon was worried about being able to conceive an heir for the aging king. Eventually, after much praying, the Queen conceived her long awaited child. The poem compares this event to that of an orange tree bearing fruit of of season and a serene and peaceful time is portrayed with the happy cries of the child.
I leave you with another picture of the beautiful cherry blossoms. Remember to think about how precious and beautiful life is next time you get to see the pretty blossoms in America (cherry, almond, etc) .
Follow in our Footsteps:
5101 Imadomari, Nakijin, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0428
Price: 400 yen (adults), 300 yen (children)
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!