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  • The Japanese custom of flower viewing, or hanami, is thousands of years old.

  • In early Japanese folklore, cherry blossoms, or sakura, represented fertility and growth.

  • Because they grew in the mountains, cherry trees were part of a spiritual landscape inhabited by powerful Shinto deities called "kami."

  • Beginning in the 9th century, saplings and trees were brought down from the mountains to grace the gardens of the aristocracy.

  • The practice of hanami was first associated with plum, ume, blossoms.

  • At first, cherry blossom celebrations were the preserve of the imperial court elite.

  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a legendary feudal warlord and samurai, sponsored some of history's most lavish cherry blossom viewing events.

  • In 1594, he made a pilgrimage with a large entourage to Mount Yoshino.

  • There, he hosted a poetry party, a noh play, and a 5,000-person cherry blossom viewing party.

  • Four years later, in 1598, Hideyoshi hosted another sumptuous cherry blossom viewing party at Kyoto's Daigo-ji Temple.

  • He transplanted 700 cherry trees to the site and built hillside teahouses to accommodate his guests.

  • He is said to have commissioned more than 3,000 opulent kimonos for the ladies of the court.

  • Cherry blossom viewing gradually gained popularity with people from virtually every level of society.

  • The pastime was in full swing by the Edo period, as depicted in colorful woodcuts from the era known as "ukiyo-e", or "pictures of the floating world."

  • Kitao Shigemasa's elegant 18th-century woodblock print shows a cherry blossom viewing party that is not so different from what happens today.

  • Three women and a man relax at Asukayama Hill, still a popular destination for cherry blossom viewers.

  • They are seated on a ground cover enjoying a picnic of food and drink among the blossoms.

  • Utagawa Hiroshige's view of a landscape near Ueno Hill features two graceful weeping cherry trees in the foreground.

  • The site has been identified as Shūsō-in, one of three Buddhist temple gardens collectively known as Hanamidera, or flower-viewing temples.

  • It was formerly called "higurashi no sato," meaning a village where visitors would lose track of time while contemplating beautiful scenery.

  • During the Meiji period, cherry blossoms continued to embody a complex mixture of memories, events, ideas, and philosophies associated with Japan and Japanese culture.

  • Ina Japan now teeming with foreign visitors and modern industry, cherry blossoms were embraced as enduring symbols of the country and its people.

  • Washington author, journalist, and world traveler Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore became enamored with cherry blossoms during trips to Japan that began in 1885.

  • She urged D.C. park officials to plant cherry trees in the city's new Potomac Park.

  • A few years later, David Fairchild, a botanist with the US Department of Agriculture, and his wife, Marian Bell, came up with the idea of planting cherry trees along the boulevard, a popular roadway in the park.

  • The efforts of Scidmore and the Fairchilds set the stage for Japan's 1912 gift of 3,020 cherry trees that would transform the shores of the Tidal Basin and lead to the creation of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

  • Learn more about the origins and shared traditions of sakura in "Cherry Blossoms: Sakura Collections from the Library of Congress."

  • Available in bookstores and libraries everywhere.

The Japanese custom of flower viewing, or hanami, is thousands of years old.

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