As you may know, 桜 (さくら – sakura – cherry blossoms) is the Japanese national flower, and we’ve been loving this flower for a long, long time. Here’s a short story about Sakura.

天気予報 – Weather Forecast

When you look at (or listen to) a weather forecast, you often hear a term like “寒冷前線 (かんれいぜんせん – kanrei zensen – a cold front)” in a sentence like “A cold front will pass over the Hokkaido district tomorrow.” Besides 寒冷前線 (a cold front) and 温暖前線 (おんだんぜんせん – ondan zensen – a warm front), we have a word “桜前線 (さくらぜんせん – sakura zensen – a cherry blossom front)” as if it’s one of the weather terms. Actually, when the flowers open is announced by 気象庁 (きしょうちょう – kishouchou – the Meteorological Agency) every spring, and it starts from the most southern part of Japan and goes up to the north. Usually it begins around the end of March, and the 桜前線 (a cherry blossom front) comes to the northern Hokkaido area around the beginning of May.

Sound this season, we look at 天気予報 (てんきよほう – tenki yohou – weather forecast) with more attention because of 桜前線 (a cherry blossom front), and we might check the calender as a child starts caring about whether a particular Sunday will be fine or rainy. If you know about our custom called “お花見 (おはなみ – ohanami)”, you must understand these exciting feelings very well. But even though you’re not interested in the lively (or noisy) picnic, it’s very nice to see beautiful cherry blossoms on a clear Sunday.

There are so many kinds of 桜 (cherry blossoms), and one of them called ソメイヨシノ (somei yoshino) and is refered mainly by the 気象庁 (the Meteorological Agency). There are lots of parks or other viewing spots where we can enjoy walking or having a party “お花見 (ohanami)” all over Japan, but some places are forbidden to enter. In some places, you can enjoy 夜桜 (よざくら – yozakura) which means “cherry blossoms at night” directly. You find that it’s indeed attractive if you look at lots of illuminated 桜 (cherry blossoms) in the darkness.

お花見 – Ohanami Party

Well, personally I don’t like the too lively party “お花見 (ohanami)”, but lots of people want to go out for that, and a terrible traffic jam happens here and there because of it. So many groups such as family, close friends and co-workers are trying to find better viewing place and spread something to sit down over the lawn and prepare for the お花見. Originally “お花見” means “viewing flowers” and it refers to 桜 (cherry blossoms), but more people actually want to enjoy eating, drinking and singing karaoke rather than viewing. It’s a proverb, “花より団子 (はなよりだんご – hana yori dango)” which means “eating more than viewing flowers” or something like that. If you were a member of the royal family, the お花見 would be so graceful, but common people seem to be happy with such “simple” ones. One of the troubled things is their bad behavior like leaving garbage and being noisy etc, and some people don’t like the custom because of that.

Sakura in Food and Drinks

散らし寿司 (ちらしずし – chirashizushi) might be one dish that we come up with first around this season. It’s a kind of 寿司 (すし – sushi), and it’s a very colorful one; some colorful materials like yellow (egg), pale pink (salmon), black (“nori – seaweeds”), red (red jinjer) and so on – they are scattered (散らしてある – chirashite aru) over vinegared rice. You can buy vinegared mix so that you can make the base rice by mixing it with cooked rice, and recently we often see another one made called “桜寿司 (さくらずし – sakurazushi) at supermarkets. It’s a vinegared mix including chopped cherry leaves and smells like cinnamon. You can buy salted cherry leaves and possibly salted cherry flowers at department stores, so you can also put them on top og the rice together with other materials.

茶 (さくらちゃ – sakuracha): I suspect that this is not so popular, at least around here, and actually I’ve never tried it so far. Once I heard from a friend who tasted it in Kyoto, and it sounded quite “tasteful” visually rather than the actual taste. You put a whole lot of 桜の花 (さくらのはな – sakura no hana – cherry flower) in a cup. It’s moist and looks wrinkled because it is salted. You pour hot water in the cup; then, the flower begins opening little by little. The actual taste is a little salty and not wonderfully good, she said, but you can enjoy the graceful performance and good smell like the cinnamon by 桜の花 (cherry flower).

Besides the above, we have lots of sakura products like 桜餅 (sakuramochi – one of Japanese sweets) and Western style cakes with cherry leaves and flowers. Besides food, we adopt this flower as the pattern of 着物 (きもの – kimono) and other clothes, there are some girls who have the kanji “桜 (sakura)” as her name, there are lots of words and phrases with 桜 (sakura), and I was in a class called “さくら組 (さくらぐみ – sakuragumi – a group of Sakura) when I was in a kindergarten.

Sakura in Poetry

If you’re interested in 俳句 (はいく – haiku) and 短歌 (たんか – tanka), you can find the word “桜” is used often in such poems. It’s called “季語 (きご – kigo)”, and you can express the 季節 (きせつ – kisetsu – season) as 春 (はる – haru – spring) by using the word “桜”. Besides such classical poems, you find the word “桜” in lyrics of Japanese pop songs so often if it’s a song about spring. Japanese social life ends in March, and graduation ceremonies take place in this month. So, the word “桜” or the flower might remind you of little painful and lonely feelings when you hear some of the songs.

Pay Your Attention to the Right Things

There is a expression in Japanese called “花より団子”.

  • 花 – はな – hana – flower, blossom
  • 団子 – だんご – dango

The word “dango” means smaller and rounder things, and it’s often translated to “dumpling” when it refers to food. But in the case of the saying, “dango” is sweets which are sticky small balls. You can buy it at supermarkets and convenience stores, besides Japanese sweets shops, and generally you can enjoy three kinds of tastes; しょうゆ (shouyu – sweetened sauce with soy sauce), 胡麻 (ごま – goma – sweetened sesame paste) and 餡 (あん – an – sweet bean paste).

Thus, you must be able to understand that we pay more attention to “dango” rather than viewing flowers!