While the cherry blossoms have already reached full bloom in some parts of Japan, it is interesting to list 5 special cherry trees that are classified as great cherry trees in Japan (日本五大桜, Nihon Godai Zakura), designated as national treasures by the government in 1922.
Yamataka Jindai Zakura (山高神代桜), Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture
Considered the oldest tree in Japan, Jindai Zakura is believed to have been planted by Prince Yamato Takeru (see here for his legend) some 1,800-2,000 years ago, after his successful campaign in the Eastern part of Japan. Another legend has it that in the 12th century, when the tree was dying, Buddhist monk Nichiren’s prayers restored it back to health. Jindai Zakura is also the biggest cherry tree in Japan, reaching more than 10 meters in height and 10 meters in width.
Miharu Takizakura (三春滝桜), Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture
The name of Miharu Takizakura litterally means a waterfall cherry tree, given the particular way the branches are bending towards the ground. While the town of Miharu sustained major damage after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, this over 1,000 year old cherry tree was untouched by the devastation. Miharu Takizakura was indeed considered by many a symbol of hope: despite the situation, when the flowers bloomed, thousands of people decided to admire them during hanami. Slowly, the flow of tourists got better again and it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 people visit the tree each year.
Ishitokaba Zakura (石戸蒲ザクラ), Kitamoto, Saitama Prefecture
An 800 years old tree, Ishitokaba Zakura is the only crossbreed in the world of the Edohigan and Yamazakura varieties. If you’re in Tokyo during the cherry blooming season, this is the closest to reach among the five trees. Check the map below to know the location, since it may be difficult to find.
Usuzumi Zakura (淡墨桜), Motosu, Gifu Prefecture
Another beautiful tree with a particular meaning, the Usuzumi Zakura is said to have been planted by Emperor Keitai 1,500 years ago. The name of the tree refers to the color of the petals of its cherry blossoms: usuzumi in fact means ‘pale ink’, which is the name for a light black color often used in Japanese calligraphy. Before blooming, the buds are a tender pink, then change to a full bloom white, and to a grey-ish color once fallen on the ground, hence the name. In the 50s the tree was suffering, but, thanks to the cleverness of the townspeople, Usuzumi Zakura returned to health after a grafting treatment to its roots.
Kariyado no Gebazakura (狩宿の下馬桜), Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture
Although it was known as a very strong and one of the highest cherry trees in Japan, reaching 35 meters, Kariyado no Gebazakura has been weakened by typhoons and strong winds during the years. Kariyado no Gebazakura is referenced to in poetry and anecdotes regarding its beauty and magnificence in relationship to people’s hearts and feelings. The tree stands on a field of yellow rape flowers, which create a nice chromatic effect with the cherry flowers’ pink petals.
For all of these cherry trees, you will see posts used to support the branches, since they become very heavy with flowers and foliage and would be at risk of breaking.
Cover photo: takizakura by ayu oshimi via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
5 flowers of Japan (part 1)
5 flowers of Japan (part 2)
5 Things to do in Japan this Spring
Japanese festivals: Hana Matsuri
Hidden gems: Azuma Shrine in Asakusa, Tokyo, & the legend of Prince Yamato Takeru