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In Images: Japan's cherry blossom

| Words by Rachel McCombie |

Find out all about Japan’s fascination with cherry blossom, including how it’s celebrated and where to see it.

1. Cherry blossom is known as “sakura” in Japanese, and it’s the country’s national flower. A symbol of renewal and hope, cherry blossom heralds the arrival of spring each year, and you’ll see it in abundance from late March to mid-April.

2. During cherry blossom season you’ll often see groups of people having picnics underneath the cherry trees. This is called “hanami”, or “flower viewing”, and it’s a custom that dates back many centuries.

3. There are numerous beautiful spots to see cherry blossom when you’re in Japan, among them the incredible Kinkaku-Ji, or Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto. The temple was founded in 1397 and sits in extensive peaceful gardens. (This image was taken in the autumn as we struggled to find a suitable spring shot. If you have an image, we'd love to see it!)

4. The Japanese have a television forecast for cherry blossom season, provided by the country’s Meteorological Agency. The blossom moves north in a “sakura zensen”, or cherry blossom front, and its progress is keenly tracked.

5. You can’t get a more iconic image of Japan than the view of cherry blossom framing the country’s most famous landmark, Mount Fuji. Several spots around the surrounding lakes make perfect vantage points for both blossom and snow-capped volcano.

6. Japan is home to over 200 different varieties of cherry blossom, the most popular being the “Somei Yoshino”. Its white flowers have the merest hint of pink and usually last no more than a week - a reminder of the transient nature of life.

7. Another place to see spectacular cherry blossom is Nara Park, where you’ll see a large population of sacred deer wandering beneath the blooms. The deer are officially classed as a national treasure, and despite being wild, they’re quite tame.

8. The deer are tremendously popular with tourists, who buy crackers to feed to them. Anyone visiting Japan for cherry blossom season can enjoy the company of the deer alongside the park’s 1,700 sakura trees.

9. Hanami festivities are celebrated with gusto, with music, specially prepared dishes of food and sake (rice wine). During cherry blossom season, the parks are alive with the sound of people admiring the flowers and joyfully celebrating.

10. McDonalds is one of many restaurants and shops to decorate outlets with artificial cherry blossom in spring. This year, the fast food chain introduced cherry blossom burgers, complete with pink bread and “Sakura Cherry” drinks.

11. The Japanese are so fond of cherry blossom that they even make it into ice cream. You’ll also see it make an appearance in advertising campaigns, in which companies seek to assure you that your enjoyment of hanami will be improved with their products.

12. The tradition of hanami has been going on for many hundreds of years; according to a text from the 8th century, such festivities have been held since at least the 3rd century.

13. Surprisingly, the title of “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World” isn’t actually bestowed on a Japanese city. That honour falls to Macon, in Georgia, USA, which is home to an estimated 300,000 sakura trees.

14. When hanami takes place at night, it’s known as “yozakura”, which means “night sakura”. On such occasions, paper lanterns are hung in the trees to light up the night - a spectacular sight, as this image shows.

15. The cherry blossom 'trail' begins in the south in mid-March, travelling north to reach Kyoto and Tokyo by early April. The blooms last for around one week so good planning is required.