Anyone who has studied any aspect of Japan can tell you that cherry blossoms are a significant symbol and part of Japanese culture. Every year news, weather, travel and specialty websites and shows track blooming predictions. In this day and age, you can be sure there’s an app for it. Sakura zensen, 桜前線、is the official term for the cherry blossom front, the domino-like progression of cherry blossom trees blooming their way up Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido. The delicate, fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms has stood the test of time as one of the most celebrated symbols of Japan. This information is all well and good for the uninitiated, but people who’ve been going to Sakura Sunday for years now might want a bit more. Let’s explore some lesser known facts concerning cherry blossoms. Once you know these, you’ll be the coolest at every cherry blossom based trivial pursuit!
Surprisingly simple but quite interesting is the character used for the word cherry blossom, sakura、桜. It is made up of three radicals. Radicals are smaller characters that are used to build the complex characters (kanji). Radicals carry meanings and are sometimes kanji on their own. By studying the meanings of radicals and basic kanji, you will be able to decipher or at least get a good guess at the meaning of kanji that you don’t know. In the case of 桜, it is built with three radicals. The first radical on the left is a variant of the kanji 木, ki, tree. The top right radical indicates an ornate hat or head dress. The radical beneath it is also a kanji that means woman, 女, onna. So all together 桜 shows a woman sitting under a tree with an ornate headpiece. It can be inferred she is beautiful because she wears a crown. While this isn’t a literal representation of cherry blossoms, the calm beauty of it encapsulates their mood quite nicely.
Some cherry (blossom) trees produce more than tear-jerking petals of unimaginable splendor. Some cherry (blossom) trees also pump out cherries! Fruit bearing cherry blossom trees can make either sweet or tart cherries. Sweet cherries are harder to come by because they require cross pollination. Tart cherries are the result of self pollination. While used almost exclusively for baking, tart cherries have more health benefits than you’d guess. They contain the highest level of antioxidants than any other fruit! That’s a whole lot of disease fighting power in one tiny cherry. They also have vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, iron, fiber and potassium. Forget bananas and oranges, just pop some of these bad boys in with a meal and feel the power of health!
Just how do they forecast the sakura zensen? The good folks at the Japan Meteorological Agency, who as of 2010 leave the predictions in the hands of the private sector, employed the use of the Arrhenius equation to produce a cherry blossom specific formula. Here it is: DTS = exp((9.5×10 to the third)x([T – 288.2] / 288.2T)). T is the mean day temperature in Kelvin and DTS means the number of days changed to standard temperature. For all those sciencey-mathy people attending Sakura Sunday, have at it! For those of us who can’t quite wrap our brains around that, we have the reassurance of knowing they also observe samplings of cherry blossom trees to determine region-wide trends.
Now that you’re neck deep in the oceans of knowledge, come out to Sakura Sunday and spread the word! On April 15th, join the JASGP and friends in celebrating the joys of Spring!