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Cherry Blossoms Across Borders

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan and New Zealand

Cherry Blossoms in Japan

Japan, 2019.

The allure of the Land of the Rising Sun was undeniable when my eldest son invited me to join him, his wife and their then-toddler daughter on a journey to Japan in May 2019. The country offers a plethora of sights, from the lively cityscapes of Tokyo to the tranquil landscapes of Kyoto, and from the ancient temples of Nara to the innovative architecture of Osaka.

Little did I know this adventure would lead me to discover the cultural significance of cherry blossoms and the unexpected joy they would bring me later in the year.

As we embarked on our journey to Japan, keenly aware the cherry blossom season would likely be over by the time of our arrival, I still hoped to glimpse the fleeting cherry blossoms.

Cherry Blossoms in the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand.

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Hanami Harmony: Embracing Life’s Transience

Cherry blossoms, native to Japan and known there as Sakura, are delicate and ephemeral flowers that symbolize the transient nature of life. These iconic blossoms usually grace the Japanese landscapes in spring, creating breathtaking displays of pink and white hues. The blooming period varies, but it generally occurs between late March and early May.

The cultural and religious significance of cherry blossoms in Japan has deep roots. These flowers represent the beauty and fragility of life, a concept embraced in various aspects of Japanese culture. In Shinto, the indigenous spirituality of Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize the impermanence of all things and the importance of embracing the present moment. The practice of Hanami, or flower viewing, reflects this philosophy and holds a special place in Japanese culture.

Hanami involves more than mere flower-watching; Families and friends gather under the blooming trees, enjoying picnics and celebrating the arrival of spring. The cherry blossom festivals held across Japan during this season further highlight the cultural significance of Sakura. These festivals showcase an array of Japanese traditions, from traditional tea ceremonies to performances and parades.

The association of cherry blossoms with warplanes may seem unexpected, but during World War II, Japanese pilots painted Sakura on their kamikaze planes. The symbolism was both poignant and tragic, as these pilots embraced the fleeting nature of life and the sacrifice they were making for their country. However, in the contemporary context, cherry blossoms are no longer associated with military or self-destructive purposes. Japan has transitioned from wartime symbolism to a more peaceful and celebratory embrace of Sakura.

As we navigated Japan in May 2019, my anticipation for cherry blossoms turned into acceptance as I realised the season had bid farewell. However, the unexpected delight awaited me in September of the same year when I visited the South Island of New Zealand. To my surprise, cherry trees adorned with flowers in full bloom greeted me, adding a touch of magic to the landscape.

Finding cherry blossoms in New Zealand, far from their native Japan, was a testament to the global reach of these beautiful flowers. While Japan is synonymous with cherry blossoms, other countries, including the United States, South Korea, and China, boast cherry trees. Some of these nations even host their own cherry blossom festivals, celebrating the beauty and symbolism of these delicate blooms.

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Cherry Blossoms Inspire Journeys Beyond Boundaries

My pursuit of cherry blossoms in Japan and New Zealand was a source of inspiration, revealing the universal appeal of these flowers. As I reflect on the experience, I invite others to embark on their own journeys to witness the magic of cherry blossoms. Whether in Japan during the spring festival season or in unexpected corners of the world, like the South Island of New Zealand, these blossoms have the power to captivate and inspire.

In planning your travels, consider aligning your trips with the cherry blossom seasons in different regions. Embrace the cultural richness and natural beauty these blossoms bring, and join the global celebration of life, impermanence, and the sheer joy of witnessing nature’s fleeting wonders.

The beauty of cherry blossoms transcends both location and time. They remind us to appreciate life’s transience and find joy in the surprises that bloom along our journeys.

Cherry Blossoms - Queenstown, NZ

The view of cherry blossoms overlooking Queenstown, New Zealand, from the front door of our accommodation.

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Q & A

In what seasons do cherry trees blossom in Japan and New Zealand?

Cherry blossoms (or Sakura) bloom in Japan from late March to early May. In New Zealand, particularly the South Island, September is the prime season for these delicate flowers.

What other places in the world to see Sakura?

Apart from Japan and New Zealand, you can catch cherry blossoms in various locations globally. Washington D.C. in the United States boasts a stunning display, as does South Korea, Taiwan, and China.

Where is Sakura celebrated with festivals?

Japan takes the cherry blossom festival cake with its renowned Hanami celebrations. South Korea’s Jinhae Gunhangje Festival is another must-see. Even in the U.S., the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. is a vibrant celebration of these ephemeral blooms.

More stunning displays of cherry blossoms in New Zealand’s South Island.

Cherry Blossoms in the New Zealand regions of Akaroa, Arrowtown, Christchurch and Queenstown. Photos: Jocelyn Watts, 2019.

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