“Hanami” is the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming sakura. The cherry blossom front moves northward up the archipelago with the approach of warmer weather. The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and typically reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April. It proceeds into areas at the higher altitudes and northward, arriving in Hokkaidō a few weeks later. Japanese pay close attention to these forecasts and turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines, and temples with family and friends to hold flower-viewing parties. Hanami festivals celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom and for many are a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful view.
Yamazakura ©Marina Kudrya
Japan has a wide variety of cherry blossoms (sakura); well over 200 cultivars can be found there. The most popular variety of cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino. Its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem. Other categories include yamazakura, yaezakura, and shidarezakura. The yaezakura have large flowers, thick with rich pink petals. The shidarezakura, or weeping cherry, has branches that fall like those of a weeping willow, bearing cascades of pink flowers.
Shidarezakura and yaezakura ©Marina Kudrya
The apple tree is a deciduous tree in the rose family best known for its sweet, pomaceous fruit. The tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor is still found today. Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, and were brought to North America by European colonists. Apples have religious and mythological significance in many cultures, including Norse, Greek and European Christian traditions.
Apple blossom in Moscow ©Marina Kudrya
Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. One of the problems identifying apples in religion, mythology and folktales is that the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all foreign fruit, other than berries, including nuts, as late as the 17th century.
Apple blossom ©Marina Kudrya
For instance, in Greek mythology, the Greek hero Heracles, as a part of his Twelve Labours, was required to travel to the Garden of the Hesperides and pick the golden apples off the Tree of Life growing at its centre.