How to Look at Cherry Blossoms

A close up of flowers (cherry blossom tree)
Oleg Magni, “Sakura Tree”. March 18, 2019. Image © Pexels.

Cherry blossoms, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? Not everyone has the privilege of seeing them but when they do, it’s a sight worth seeing. It’s something you and I have seen, if not in person, through pictures, media, TV shows and movies etc. But what if I were to tell you there is more than just what meets the eye. That with every petal comes to a pattern, with every colour comes to emotion, with every blossom comes to a story. Cherry blossoms have historic, symbolic meaning and different interpretations around the world. More than a visual aid, a story lies in between the details. In this chapter, we take a moment to look at and examine how to read cherry blossoms.

They are generally referred to as cherry blossoms in the west but adopt different names in the east. Overseas, they’re referred to as either Japanese cherry or Sakura. Cherry blossoms are the national flower of Japan. It’s interesting when we examine cherry blossoms in the east, as there’s a different lens in looking at them compared to us. Cherry blossoms symbolize spring and are commonly associated with the spring season. It symbolizes a time of renewal and the general nature of life (Takeda, Smithsonian Folklife Festival). It can represent the beauty and length of life as short, as two weeks after blossoming they begin to fall.

A close up of pink petaled flowers (cherry blossom)
Brett Sayles, “Pink Petaled Flowers”. April 6, 2018. Image © Pexels.

Around this time in Japan, cherry blossom parties or festivals (also known as Hanami) are common. The word itself, Hanami, is translated to “watching blossoms” (Anna, Japan Web Magazine). Japan, in particular, has many schools and businesses that have cherry blossom trees located outside to bring in good luck, good fortune and positivity. The school year (unlike the west, beginning in September) begins in April, the season of Sakura.

Below is the Japanese character (in Kanji) for Sakura. This (ki) means tree or wood, which is written in the pictorial shape of a tree. This means Saku (derived from Sakura) which translates to bloom. This put together visually and linguistically translates to cherry blossom tree or Sakura [tree] (Kanji Tools).

Japanese character (Kanji) for Sakura
“Sakura”. April 9, 2014. Image © Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Again, below is Kanji for Hanami. This (hana) means flower. This (mi) means to see or watch, the character for is a combination of characters that make ‘eye’ and ‘human’ (looking with your eyes). Again, when put together, this visually and linguistically translates to “to view” or “to watch” flowers (Anna, Japan Web Magazine).

Japanese character (Kanji) for Sakura
“Hanami”. April 9, 2014. Image © Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Many people, including you and I, admire the beauty that cherry blossoms hold. Their colour, aesthetic and general beauty is what attract many. However, many people fail to recognize the significance of these flowers. Its true meaning and origin can often be overlooked. Examining these flowers in every way allows us to further understand past their beauty, having the deep knowledge in looking at something as simple as this. When looking at cherry blossoms this way, we realize the true symbolism it holds. We now discover the story that lies in between the details.

Works Cited

Anna. “What is Hanami?” Japan Web Magazine, 11 March 2021, Accessed 3 February 2022.

Hanami. April 9, 2014. Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Accessed 3 February 2022.

“Kanji for Sakura, cherry blossoms.” Kanji Tools,

Accessed 3 February 2022.

Oleg, Magni. Sakura Tree. March 18, 2019. Pexels. Accessed 3 February 2022.

Sakura. April 9, 2014. Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Accessed 3 February 2022.

Sayles, Brett. Pink Petaled Flowers. April 6, 2018. Pexels. Accessed 3 February 2022.

Takeda, Erina. “Significance of Sakura: Cherry Blossom Traditions in Japan.” Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 9 April 2014, Accessed 3 February 2022.

© Copyright 2022 Natasha Budhai, Ryerson University

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