Somei Yoshino: the quintessence of sakura

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Tokyo Sakura Scenes

Somei Yoshino: the quintessence of sakura

The term hanami refers to the pastime of viewing any flower in any season. Yet the image it evokes first and foremost is of cherry blossoms, or sakura.
The Somei Yoshino is the most popular variety for the magnificence of the flowers in full bloom and the beauty of the petals falling in the wind. Today it is virtually synonymous with sakura. Few people know, however, that the Somei Yoshino originated only in the Meiji period (1868–1912). Before that, hanami-goers in the Edo period (1603–1868) flocked to see the yamazakura (Japanese cherry) and the Edohigan Cherry.
As the story goes, around the late Edo or early Meiji period, gardeners in Edo’s Somei-mura Village (currently the Komagome area of Toshima-ku, Tokyo) bred the Somei Yoshino and distributed it nationwide. The new cultivar was initially called the Yoshino Cherry and later renamed. At present, the Somei Yoshino is the flower of Tokyo and serves as a standard in the sakura-zensen forecasts of cherries blossoming across Japan.
The custom of hanami is also believed to have emerged in the Edo period. It was a pastime of choice for everyone regardless of rank or gender. The hanami destinations popular today—Ueno Park, the cherries of Bokutei, and Asukayama Park in Kita-ku—were all born in the Edo period. The cherry trees in the last two spots are particularly famous for being planted by the eighth shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune.
The landmark guide Meisho Zue published in the Edo period, as well as various woodblock prints and paintings, depict everyone from the commoners of Edo to the women of Edo Castle admiring flowers in bloom.
Both then and now, hanami is an all-time favorite pastime of Tokyoites.

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