If there is a plant that best represents Japan, it is the sakura. The term sakura is used to describe the species of cherry tree appreciated for the beauty of their blossoms rather than their fruit.
While some Japanese people consider the family crest of the Japanese Imperial Family, the Chrysanthemun, as the unofficial national flower of Japan, many others see the cherry blossoms as the symbol best encompassing Japanese values of beauty.
When turning back the pages of history, the cherry blossoms can be seen as a constant in Japanese appreciation of nature.
Cherry blossom viewing parties, "Hanami", first became popular in the Heian Period and continue to be very popular.
Picnicking and drinking sake with family, friends and co-workers beneath flowering cherry trees remains a popular rite of springtime in contemporary Japan. The importance of this custom is underlined by the fact that, in early April, radio and television stations broadcast hourly reports on the blossoming of local cherry trees, and most train stations have a signboard indicating the best spots for viewing the flowers.
The traditional Japanese values of purity and simplicity are thought to be reflected by the cherry blossoms. In the aesthetic sense cherry blossoms are a symbol of transience and ephemeral beauty; they last briefly from about a week to ten days and then scatter. In the Edo Period, the cherry blossom was the symbol for the samurai, who often led "too short" lives as warriors. Sakura reveal that the best times are short and we should all enjoy them while they last!
The Sakura has also been offered by Japan as a symbol of peace to the countries of the world. Cherry Blossoms now adorn the banks of the Potomac River, in Washington DC, and the remains of the Berlin wall.