I don’t know why, but I love spring. But of course, one of the most memorable things about Spring are blossoms! In Japanese these are known as sakura (桜) and in Korean I think1 these are known as peotggot (벚꽃), and often begin blooming in February or March in the southern regions, and the blooming moves northwards. By April, you can see cherry blossoms everywhere. You can easily recognize cherry blossoms by their five petals, which have a small notch at the end. The color will be white to deep pink depending on the variety.
Even at my home here in Seattle, we are lucky to have cherry blossoms blooming:
I literally took this photo at my doorstep, on my iPhone, filtered by Instagram. The previous owner of our home planted both peach and cherry trees in the front of the house, so we get to see both blooming around the same time:
As my wife and I are both new to gardening, we’re still struggling to learn how to maintain the yard, but are getting better at it.
Anyhow, you can find many festivals and outdoor activities at this time of year in both Korea and Japan. In Japan, people really gather around Kyoto and Tokyo during this time of year, and news shows will have special segments when cherry trees bloom in Ueno Park for example. This post was inspired by an excellent article by the Japan Times too.
Here’s a photo I took in 2010 of the temple of Todaiji in April:
You can see the cherry blossoms nicely here. 🙂 In Tokyo, you can find many places to organize picnics for cherry-blossom viewing or hanami (花見), though space fills up fast. This excellent site has lots of suggestions in the Tokyo area. Here’s an even better site in Japanese.
The photo above comes from Wikipedia, since I haven’t been to Korea yet. But I think it shows how lovely this festival is. The website linked above even has a “live” camera feed of the blossoms there, though it didn’t work on my browser. 😦
Seoul also has lots of cherry festivals both at Gyeongbok Palace and on the famous island of Yeouido which sits within the Han River. Yeouido apparently gets super-crowded during this time of year as people swarm to see its excellent gardens and blossoms, so if you do go there, be prepared to fight crowds. Also, a lot of streets may be shut down on certain days, so be prepared to walk.
As a final note, I want to post a poem by Ki no Tsurayuki (c. 868-945) from the Hyakunin Isshu anthology that seemed fitting. I originally posted this on my other blog, but felt like re-posting here:
人はいさ Hito wa isa
心も知らず Kokoro mo shirazu
ふるさとは Furusato wa
花ぞむかしの Hana zo mukashi no
香に匂ひける Ka ni nioi keru
Which Professor Mostow translates as:
With people, well
you can never know their hearts;
but in my old village
the flowers brightly bloom with
the scent of the days of old.
Anyhow, wherever you are, I hope you can enjoy cherry blossoms. Better yet, I hope you can share the moment with friends and family. 🙂
….unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere. Sorry guys. 😉
Correction: Figured out later that cherry blossoms are peotggot (벚꽃), while cherry trees are peotnamu (벚나무). Blog has been corrected accordingly. I still have a lot to learn about Korean. 😛
P.S. The Wikipedia article on “Sakura” mentions something about the origin of the modern sakura, coming from Jeju Island possibly. I’d be curious to know more about how the Korean and Japanese species are related.
1 Used my handy Naver iPhone app (thanks to a recent reader suggestion) to translate sakura into Korean, then search by Google and found a Wikipedia article about it. So, I’m pretty sure I’m right. Any Korean experts are welcome to chime in further.