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AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO SAKURA BLOSSOM
Cherry blossoms fall
Following the strong wind's lead
~ by Yosa Buson ~
"Sakura" is the Japanese term for ornamental cherry trees and their blossoms. In Japanese, it is written : 桜 or 櫻 or さくら.
While cherry blossom may be found in all temperate climates, it is the unique settings of Japan that sets it apart. Whether found along the banks of winding rivers, in tranquil temple gardens, or amidst majestic mountain landscapes, the delicate sakura blossoms add a touch of grace and beauty to every scene.
Sakura belong to a large family of plants called the Rosaceae, or rose family. This includes many of our fruit trees, all of which have the classic sakura-like flower, with just six petals or so, and the ability to lose those petals within a few days. This ephemeral quality is what captivates the imagination of the Japanese, their philosophers, and poets of old, inspiring contemplation of life, death, and the fleeting nature of existence.
Sakura season in Feb-May is preceded by ume season Jan-April. "ume" means plum in Japanese. If you observe Japanese art closely, you will soon be able to tell the difference between ume and sakura. Ume typically has straight, short and pokey stems, with flowers almost emanating directly from the stem, which confers a more abstract aesthetic. Sakura, on the other hand, is less dramatic in outline, more wavy and soft.
Cherry trees can be found throughout Japan, making them accessible wherever you may wander. Off the beaten path, you might unexpectedly encounter the Yama-zakura (mountain cherry), where, amid tranquil silence, the pale pink sakura are complemented by the delicate green hues of the Mejiro, the elegant Japanese white-eye, as it sips sweet nectar. In Japanese, the Mejiro is known as "メジロ" or "目白," while yama-zakura is known as "山桜."
Koyasan has two very special weeping cherry trees ("しだれ桜" (Shidarezakura) or "枝垂れ桜") at the entrance of Kongobuji Temple. The weeping habit is considered especially elegant in Japan. It is hardly a coincidence that we have these marvellous beauties in Koyasan.
Most sakura on Mount Koya are scattered amongst the private temple gardens, or rarely, on the surrounding hills, the reason being that the mountains are primarily dedicated to the cultivation of Japanese cypress (sugi), providing timber for temple reconstruction and repair.
Sakura does not persist year round. A sakura tourist will need to visit Japan somewhere between late February and late March. During this time, visitors may also admire ume, magnolia and some other Japanese classical species, beloved of practitioners of the tea ceremony. The spring also provides many traditional culinary delights, particularly the edible young leaves and shoots of many mountain species. These seasonal fare are increasingly rare, and found mostly in high-class restaurants or traditional homes.
Sakura has many species, and each is optimal to view at a slightly different time. This provides for a special opportunity in one of the foremost viewing areas of Japan, Yoshino Yama. The excess of visitors to this sacred mountain can make sakura viewing a little cumbersome, however, thanks to a variety of early or late-blossoming species, one may visit any time in the season, and still enjoy a magnificent sight.
The Sakura tide, so to speak, flows from the south, in the Okinawa islands to the north, in Hokkaido. A sakura enthusiast following the blossoms northwards, may relish their journey through the length of the Japanese archipelago, savoring the exquisite flurry of wind- blown petals at each location. This is facilitated by reasonably-priced domestic flights.
KOYASAN SPACE is situated in the heart of Mount Koya, offering exceptional accommodation for visitors seeking a tranquil green retreat. Our botanical knowledge and sakura expertise provides guests with a unique opportunity to learn about the flora of the region. We practice organic gardening and we favour native or endemic species. Our little garden has over 100 different species, both medicinal and culinary.