A sea of pink, so dense you cannot see the sky – Japanese cherry blossom in full bloom is a singular, unforgettable sight. The significance of cherry trees goes back centuries in Japanese culture. Known as ‘sakura’, these delicate pink flowers symbolize the brevity and preciousness of life.
Being as delicate as they are, they need lots of love and attention to thrive. Travel with us on our Majestic Japan tour for the privileged opportunity to meet with one of the cherry blossom doctors who perform this highly-specialized job. In the beautiful setting of Hirosaki Castle in Amouri, you’ll learn how they take meticulous care to ensure that each tree is healthy and thriving during the blossom season each April.
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The symbolism of Japanese cherry blossom
As well as being admired for their beauty, cherry blossoms also hold great symbolism for the Japanese. They’re said to be like the clouds, blooming together in great plumes, held aloft against the blue sky. Then, like clouds, they suddenly disappear. This ephemerality reflects a longstanding Buddhist concept in Japanese culture known as ‘mono no aware. Roughly translated, it means ‘the pathos of things,’ and recognizes both the beauty and mortality inherent in life.
For travel inspiration: Japan destination guide
Japan’s cherry blossom obsession
Travel to Japan in the springtime, and you will be swept up in the fervour of the season. There’s an electricity of excitement and optimism in the air, as plants and flowers burst into life. Japanese cherry blossoms are central to this – as parks and tree-lined streets become hubs for budding photographers and loved-up couples.
Cherry blossom festivals are held in many parks and castle grounds across Japan. Shops fill with pink-themed products in celebration, with the cherry blossom flower motif seen on everything from wall paper to clothing. Even restaurants and cafes get in on the Sakura fever, with blossom-inspired food and drinks.
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The cherry blossom doctors
Needless to say, Sakura season wouldn’t be the spectacle it is without the cherry tree doctors. Tree doctors, or arborists, keep the Japanese cherry trees healthy all year round. They’re able to diagnose the condition of a tree just by looking at the color of its leaves, or listening to the sound of the trunk. Throughout the year they take care of these precious trees, both to guarantee the most magnificent blossoms, and to safeguard their survival for later generations to enjoy.
In Hirosaki, where you’ll travel to on Luxury Gold’s Majestic Japan tour, these guardians are known as the known as the sakuramori. Sakuramori literally means ‘people who look after sakura’ in Japanese.
Most of Hirosaki Park’s cherry blossoms are the Somei Yoshino variety, which live around 60 years. But Hirosaki also has trees that are over 100 years old and still blossom profusely. The oldest cherry blossom tree in Japan is over 2,000 years old. Called Jindai Zakura, it grows within the grounds of the Jissoji Temple in Yamanashi, with a root circumference of 13.5m.
Read more: Sakura: The story of an obsession
Preserving the green spaces in Japan
While the volume of green areas in Japan’s cities has generally increased over the last two decades, in many places it is becoming more difficult for trees to grow healthy and strong. This is because of new diseases and pests. Urban forests are important to clean air, reduce flood risks and even lower stress. This is why the cherry blossom doctors are vital for keeping Japan’s cities green.
The tree doctors are highly skilled in trimming any branches that appear sick or are preventing other branches from growing. They also keep an eye out for fungi, as these rot the branch from the inside, meaning the branch is more likely to fall.
Hirosaki Style Management
The way sakuramoris take care of sakura trees originated from the highly successful pruning methods used by Hirosaki’s apple farmers. Local farmers grew apples on the lower part of the trees to facilitate harvest, and this technique has proved useful for managing sakura today.
Sakuramoris first thin the branches to allow new branches to grow. After pruning and fertilization, sakura flowers can then blossom from the lower part of the tree. This is why, compared to the average Somei Yoshino, each bud in Hirosaki Park can develop one to two more flowers. When cherry blossom season arrives, after a winter of meticulous care, the flowers are simply spectacular.
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Hirosaki Castle and park
Hirosaki city is an old castle town in Aomori, Japan. Beautiful any time of year, its vast park is home to Hirosaki Castle. Widely considered as one of Japan’s most beautiful castles, Hirosaki Castle is the symbol of the park. It is one of the few Japanese castles that has been preserved in its original structure.
Constructed in the Hirayama style, the main tower was built on top of a hill for easier defense and surrounded by defensive walls, moats, and yagura towers. The park surrounding the castle is filled with cherry trees, and when spring arrives in late April the cherry blossom festival here always draws huge crowds. The park has about 50 varieties of Sakura tree, with over 2600 trees overall.
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To have the opportunity to meet a Japanese cherry blossom doctor for yourself, and to explore the best of this enchanting country, take a look at our Majestic Japan luxury guided tour. Discover an elegant, enchanting and ever-changing Japan, with exceptional hotels and exquisite dining bookending each unforgettable day.