Sakura - Japanese Cherry
Sakura - Japanese Cherry
Written by
Mr. Manabu Miyoshi, D. Sc.
Published by
Selling Agents by
Copyright 1935
Total 111 pages

The Japanese are fond of referring to their country as the “ Land of the Sakura.” No other country has as many species and varieties of the cherry (Prunus), particularly the flower-bearing kind, as Japan. Besides having a large variety of sakura trees growing wild in the mountains and forests, the Japanese people have from ancient times taken great pains to cultivate garden varieties. These garden varieties are now found on the roadside, in public gardens, in the compounds of Sinto shrines and Buddhist temples, in fact, in every nook and corner of the land.

Enjoy these excerpts from “Sakura: Japanese Cherry”

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Cherry blossoms in history

Sidare-zakuraOn the hillside of Yosinoyama

Sidare-zakuraOn the hillside of Yosinoyama

In 1594 A.D., Toyotomi-Hideyosi, who subdued the warring feudal barons and gave Japan a unified government, held a flower-viewing party at Mt. Yosinoyama, to which were invited many war lords, generals, and captains, as well as men of letters. Together they spent several days enjoying the beautiful blossoms in the surrounding woodlands. This event made Mt. Yosinoyama a famous sakura resort.

In the Edo Period (1600-1867), when Edo (present- day Tokyo) became the center of culture and civilization, there gradually appeared with the progress and advancement of botanical and horticultural researches, many garden varieties of the Sato-zakura. Different names have been given to these sakura trees which bear comparatively large flowers of beautiful color and delightful fragrance. This species was greatly admired by the lovers of flowers, and efforts were made to increase the number and variety of such trees by means of grafting and other methods.

Many of these noted kinds of sakura that flourished under the care and protection of the flower-loving public in the Edo Period were lost with the gradual devastation of sakura gardens at the time of the decay and downfall of the feudal regime. Fortunately, however, there were not a few lovers of sakura flowers among the gardeners and professional horticulturists of the time. Soon after the Meizi Restoration (1868 A. D.), they collected different kinds of sakura trees from all over Tokyo and transplanted them in their own gardens, taking great pains to preserve the trees. Many rare varieties were thus saved from extinction. Among these enthusiasts was a gardener named Takagi-Magoemon, who took an unusual interest in the cultivation of sakura trees and spared no efforts to preserve as many of the varieties as was possible. For three generations this gardener's family collected a large variety of fine sakura trees and attended to their cultivation with great zeal and energy. In 1886, some seventy-eight different kinds grown in the nursery belonging to this professional gardener, Takagi, were planted along the embankments of the River Arakawa in the suburbs of Tokyo. In due course of time these trees attained maturity and formed a splendid arbor. The place has become one of the most famous flower resorts in and around Tokyo. No other place boasts of such a large number of choice varieties.
The young sakura trees presented to the United States in 1912 by the Mayor of Tokyo consisted of the grown-up saplings or grafts of the trees of the sakura grove on the bank of the River Arakawa, and are, so to speak, the offspring of the famous Gosiki-zakura (five- colored sakura) trees on this embankment. These gift trees were planted along the tidal basin of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. for a stretch of six miles.


Hanami in Edo

Hanami in Edo (now Tokyo)—from an 18th century guidebook

Sakura and pagoda

Sakura and pagoda

Hanami, which means flower-viewing, is one of the important events in the social life of the Japanese people. In the old feudal days when the present Tokyo was called Edo, the townsfolk, men and women, old and young, bent on pleasure-seeking in the flower season, used to go in gala attire on flower-viewing excursions to the sakura groves at Ueno or Mukozima, or to the compounds of temples where sakura flowers were in bloom, and spend whole days enjoying the beauty of the flowers. This practice of hanami was not confined to the people of Edo, but was common among the countryfolk throughout the land. It was, in fact, a national event. In the prosperous years of the Genroku era (1688-1703), hanami seems to have been one of the most important annual events in the country. In those years, a sort of guidebook or floral calendar, giving information where to see the sakura flowers and when they would be at their best at each place, was published annually for the benefit of the flower-loving public. Some of these floral calendars have been preserved to this day, though most of the noted sakura groves mentioned in them have long since disappeared.

Species of cherry blossom

Arasiyama, Kyoto in Sakura season

Arasiyama, Kyoto in Sakura season. People enjoying the mountain blooms from the boat.

Of the numerous species of sakura, the most common and the most appealing is that known as the Yama- zakura which is found in abundance in forest districts almost everywhere throughout the land. Because of the simple and dignified beauty of their flowers, the trees of this species have always been popular. Many poems have been composed since olden times in praise of the Yama-zakura. Of course, other species of sakura also have beautiful flowers, particularly some Sato-zakura varieties which bear large double flowers of a very rich color. But in the strictest sense of the term, when the Japanese speak of the “ national flower, ” they mean the Yama-zakura flower.
Mutation takes place very Commonly in the sakura. In the Yama-zakura, for instance, we find that young foliage on the different trees of the same species is not uniform in color. The size of the flowers and the shape of the petals vary from one tree to another. When the wild sakura trees are cultivated in the gardens, mutation in the offspring of the trees becomes more marked. Trees with single flowers, for instance, will sometimes bear double flowers when transplanted from the mountains to the gardens. Some trees even produce fragrant flowers.

Varieties of sakura species

Varieties of sakura species (l-r) 1. Senriko, 2. Yokihi, 3. Oyamazaukura, 4. Yama-zakura, 5. Naden, 6. Syozyo

(1) Yama-zakura (Primus donarium SlEBOLD) (Yama means mountain.)
This is the most common of all the species of Japanese sakura. The trees of this species are to be found in mountains and forests, in fact, almost everywhere in Japan. These trees attain a height of about 50 feet and a circumference of about 35 feet, and frequently live for several hundred years. The flowers are usually white. A great variety in the color of the young foliage in different individual trees is the feature peculiar to this species—the young foliage of some trees is reddish, while that of others is yellowish brown or green. Young foliage appears almost at the same time as the flower buds and presents a unique and beautiful sight. In some trees of this species, the flowers are fragrant—in most of the other species, the flowers are odorless—and have hairy peduncles or flower stalks.

(2) O-yamazakura (Primus Sargentii Rehder) (O-yamazakura means large mountain sakura.)
This species is very similar to the preceding one. It has crimson-colored flowers, from which fact it is sometimes called the Beni - yamazakura (Beni means crimson). Its characteristics are the peculiar stickiness of its flowers and leaves, and the dark brown color of the bark and stems of the branches. The trees of this species grow mostly in the mountains in the provinces of central and northern Japan, and are very common in the Ou District and Hokkaido. Full-grown trees, quite large, are found in the neighborhood of Lake Tyuzenzi in Nikko. They are also found in Karahuto (Saghalien).

(3) Sato-zakura (Primus Lannesiana WILSON) (Sato means domestic.)
Sato-zakura is the general name given to the cultivated sakura trees planted from olden days in gardens.

Arasiyama, Kyoto in Sakura season

Arasiyama, Kyoto in Sakura season. People enjoying the mountain blooms from the boat.

(4) Somei-yosino (Primus yedoensis Matsumura) (Somei is the name of a place in Tokyo, where lived the gardener who first cultivated this species. Yosino is the name of a mountain near Nara.) This is a species of rather modern origin, having made its first appearance in Tokyo about 1868.

(5) Higan-zakura (Prunus Kohigan Koidzu-#l) (Higan means equinox.)
These are wild sakura which grow mostly in the mountains, though they are often planted also in garlens or in the precincts of temples and shrines. The trees of this species often attain a height of more than 6o feet. They frequently live for several hundred years. The young foliage is green; and the flowers are white or light pink, and the flower stalks are hairy.

(6) Siki-zakura (Prunus semperjiorens MIYOSHl) (Siki means four seasons, or continual.)
This is a cultivated species allied to the Higan- zakura. The trees of this form are small, often planted in gardens or in the grounds of shrines and temples. The flowers bloom in spring, autumn, and winter. The flowers are either single or double and are small, and their color is white or pink. The flower stalk is hairy.

(7) Sidare-zakura (Prunus Itosakura SlEBOLD) (Sidare means weeping.)
This is a species similar to the Higan-zakura, and has slender pendulous branches. They do not grow wild in the mountains or forests j they are only to be found in the gardens, or in the grounds of temples and shrines, etc.