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A cherry blossom, also known as Japanese cherry or sakura, is a flower of many trees of genus Prunus or Prunus subg. Cerasus. They are common species in East Asia, including China, Korea and especially in Japan. They generally refer to ornamental cherry trees, not to be confused with cherry trees that produce fruit for eating. It is considered the national flower of Japan.
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Wild species of the cherry tree is widely distributed mainly in the Northern hemisphere. In the mainstream classification in Europe and North America, cherry trees for ornamental purposes are classified into the genus Prunus which consists of about 400 species. In the mainstream classification in Japan, China, and Russia, on the other hand, ornamental cherry trees are classified into the genus Cerasus, which consists of about 100 species separated from the genus Prunus, and the genus Cerasus does not include Prunus salicina, Prunus persica (Peach), Prunus mume, Prunus grayana, amongst others. In Europe and North America, however, there were not many wild cherry trees with many large flowers suitable for cherry blossom viewing. Many of them were different from the typical cherry tree shapes and flowers for cherry blossom viewing that people today imagine. In mainland China, there has been a culture of viewing plum blossoms since ancient times, and there were many wild species of cherry blossoms, but many of them had small flowers, and the distribution area of wild species of cherry blossoms, which bore large flowers suitable for hanami, was often limited to a small area away from people's living areas. On the other hand, in Japan, Prunus speciosa (Oshima cherry) and Prunus jamasakura (Yamazakura), which bloom large flowers suitable for cherry blossom viewing and tend to become large trees, were distributed in a fairly wide area of the country and close to people's living areas. Therefore, it is considered that the culture of viewing cherry blossoms and the production of cultivars have developed historically in Japan.
Many of the cherry trees currently enjoyed for cherry blossom viewing are not wild species but cultivar. Because cherry trees have a mutable trait, many cultivars have been created for cherry blossom viewing, especially in Japan. Since the Heian period, the Japanese have produced many cultivars by selecting superior or mutant individuals that were born from natural crossings of wild cherry trees, or by crossing them artificially, and then breeding them by grafting and cutting. Oshima cherry, Yamazakura, Prunus pendula f.ascendens (syn, Prunus itosakura, Edo higan), and so on, which grow naturally in Japan, are easy to mutate, and especially Oshima cherry, which is an endemic species in Japan, tend to mutate into double-flowered, grow fast, have many large flowers, and have a strong fragrance; therefore, Oshima cherry has produced much sakura called Sato-zakura Group as a base of cultivars because of its favorable characteristics. The representative cultivars whose parent species is the Oshima cherry are Yoshino cherry and Kanzan; Yoshino cherries are actively planted in Asian countries, and Kanzan is actively planted in Western countries.
In Europe, from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, Collingwood Ingram, an Englishman, collected and studied Japanese cherry blossoms, and created various ornamental cultivars, and the culture of cherry blossom viewing began to be spread. In the United States, cherry blossom viewing began to spread after Japan presented cherry blossoms as a token of friendship in 1912. Cherry blossoms have been described to have a beautiful smell and have been the inspiration for many candles and incense for household use.
The botanical classification of cherry blossoms varies from period to period and from country to country. As of the 21st century, in the mainstream classification in Europe and North America, cherry trees for ornamental purposes are classified into the genus Prunus which consists of about 400 species. In the mainstream classification in Japan, China, and Russia, on the other hand, ornamental cherry trees are classified into the genus Cerasus, which consists of about 100 species separated from the genus Prunus, and the genus Cerasus does not include Prunus salicina, Prunus persica (Peach), Prunus mume, Prunus grayana, etc. In Japan, the genus Prunus was the mainstream as in Europe and America until around 1992, but it was reclassified into the genus Cerasus to more accurately reflect the latest botanical situation of cherry blossoms. However, it is often classified into the genus Prunus for presentation in English-speaking countries. In general, cherry blossom (sakura) refers only to some of these about 100 species and the cultivars produced from them, and it does not refer to plum blossoms (梅, ume) which are similar to sakura.
Some wild species such as Edo higan and the cultivars developed from them are in full bloom before the leaves open, giving a showy impression to the people who enjoy them. Yoshino cherry became popular as a cherry tree for cherry-blossom viewing because, in addition to these characteristics of simultaneous flowering and the fact that the flowers are in full bloom before the leaves open, it bears a large number of flowers and grows quickly to become a big tree. Many cultivars of the Sato-zakura group, which were born from complex interspecific hybrids based on Oshima cherry, are often used for ornamental purposes and generally reach full bloom a few days after to two weeks after Yoshino cherry reaches full bloom.
In the Edo period, various double-flowered cultivars were produced and planted on the banks of rivers, in Buddhist temples, in Shinto shrines, and in daimyo gardens in urban areas such as Edo, and the common people living in urban areas could enjoy them. Books from that period recorded more than 200 varieties of cherry blossoms and mentioned many varieties of cherry blossoms which are currently known, such as 'Kanzan'. However, the situation was limited to urban areas, and the main objects of hanami across the country were wild species such as Prunus jamasakura (Yamazakura) and Oshima cherry, which were widely distributed in the country.
Most Japanese schools and public buildings have cherry blossom trees outside of them. Since the fiscal and school year both begin in April, in many parts of Honshu, the first day of work or school coincides with the cherry blossom season. However, while most cherry blossom trees bloom in spring, there are also lesser known winter cherry blossoms (fuyuzakura in Japanese) that bloom between October and December. This allows for people to see both cherry blossoms and fall leaves in bloom at the same time.
In Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, besides being an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese cultural tradition that is often associated with Shinto influence, and which is embodied in the concept of mono no aware. The association of the cherry blossom with mono no aware dates back to 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The transience of the blossoms, the exquisite beauty, and volatility, has often been associated with mortality and graceful and readily acceptance of destiny and karma; for this reason, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic and have been utilized often in Japanese art, manga, anime, and film, as well as at musical performances for ambient effect. There is at least one popular folk song, originally meant for the shakuhachi (bamboo flute), titled "Sakura", and several pop songs. The flower is also represented in all manner of consumer goods in Japan, including kimono, stationery, and dishware.
Cherry blossoms are a prevalent symbol in Irezumi, the traditional art of Japanese tattoos. In tattoo art, cherry blossoms are often combined with other classic Japanese symbols like koi fish, dragons or tigers.
It was later used for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics mascot Someity. It is also a common 'season' that signals the start of spring in the Animal Crossing series of video games, where all of the game's leafy trees bloom with cherry blossoms.
Japan has a wide variety of cherry blossoms (sakura); well over 200 cultivars can be found there. According to another classification method, it is thought that there are more than 600 cultivars in Japan. According to the Tokyo Shimbun, there are 800 varieties of cherry blossoms in Japan. According to the results of DNA analysis of 215 cultivars carried out by Japan's Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in 2014, many of the cultivars of cherry trees that have spread around the world are interspecific hybrids that were produced by crossing Oshima cherry and Prunusu jamasakura (Yamazakura) with various wild species. Among these cultivars, the Sato-zakura Group, and many cultivars have a large number of petals, and the representative cultivar is Prunus serrulata 'Kanzan'.
The most popular variety of cherry blossoms in Japan is the Somei Yoshino (Yoshino cherry). Its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem. They bloom and usually fall within a week before the leaves come out. Therefore, the trees look nearly white from top to bottom. The variety takes its name from the village of Somei (now part of Toshima in Tokyo). It was developed in the mid to late-19th century at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period. The Somei Yoshino is so widely associated with cherry blossoms that jidaigeki and other works of fiction often depict the variety in the Edo period or earlier; such depictions are anachronisms. 041b061a72