The Cherry Blossom; also called Hill Cherry, Oriental Cherry, East Asian Cherry or Sakura, is a species of cherry tree native to Japan, Korea and China. It is a common symbolic element in Japanese media.
Falling sakura petals have several interconnected meanings, depending on who they are falling on and the context thereof. Cherry trees bloom en masse in early spring, usually in the month of April, but the white-to-coral petals shed and rot very quickly and the peak bloom is only a week or two. There is a celebration called Hanami, associated with the peak bloom, which often entails picnics and drinking with old friends under the cherry trees.
In Japan, cherry blossoms are an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. Due to how they blossom in spring, they have becoming the Japanese symbology for the season and its associations (such as new beginnings and young love), however, the transience of the blossoms, their extreme beauty and quick death, has also often seen them being associated with mortality; for this reason, cherry blossoms are considered richly symbolic, and have been utilized often in Japanese art, manga, anime, and film, as well as at musical performances for ambient effect. The sakura flower is represented on all manner of consumer goods in Japan, including kimono, stationery, and dishware.
- The Sakurakai, or Cherry Blossom Society, was the name chosen by young officers within the Imperial Japanese Army for their secret society in September 1930. The society was established with the goal of reorganizing the state along totalitarian militaristic lines, via a military coup d'état if necessary.
- During World War II, the cherry blossom was used to motivate the Japanese people, to stoke nationalism and militarism among the populace. Even prior to the war, they were used in propaganda to inspire "Japanese spirit," exulting in "warriors" who were "ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter." Japanese pilots would paint them on the sides of their planes before embarking on a suicide mission, or even take branches of the trees with them on their missions. A cherry blossom painted on the side of the bomber symbolized the intensity and ephemerality of life; in this way, the aesthetic association was altered such that falling cherry petals came to represent the sacrifice of youth in suicide missions to honor the emperor. The government even encouraged the people to believe that the souls of downed warriors were reincarnated in the blossoms.
- In its colonial enterprises, imperial Japan often planted cherry trees as a means of "claiming occupied territory as Japanese space".
- As the Japanese academic year begins in April and ends in March, media scenes of graduation from high school or the coming of a new transfer student are often given atmosphere with a liberal sprinkling of cherry blossoms in the air. In this context, cherry blossoms evokes both the "new beginning" of spring and the transiency of passing from one stage of life to another.