Sakura or Cherry Blossom (Japanese kanji & Chinese character: 桜 or 櫻; katakana: サクラ) is the Japanese name for ornamental cherry trees, Prunus serrulata, and their blossoms.  Cherry fruit (known as sakuranbo) come from a different species of tree.  Sakura, a well-known and ubiquitous symbol of Japan, are represented on all manner of consumer goods, including kimono, stationery, and dishware.  Cherry blossoms are an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, and as such are frequently depicted in art.

Japan's most beloved variety is the Somei Yoshino.  Its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink, especially near the stem. The flowers bloom, and usually fall (or "scatter", 散る [chiru], in Japanese) within a week, before the leaves come out.  Therefore, the trees look nearly white from top to bottom.  The variety takes its name from the village of Somei (now part of Toshima in Tokyo).  It was developed in the mid- to late-19th century at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period.  The Somei Yoshino is so widely associated with cherry blossoms that jidaigeki and other works of fiction often depict the variety in the Edo period or earlier; such depictions are anachronisms.

Annually, the Japanese Meteorological Agency and general public track the sakura zensen, or Cherry-Blossom Front.  Nightly forecasts follow the weather segment of news programs.  The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January, and typically reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April.  Then it proceeds north, arriving in Hokkaidō a few weeks later.  Japanese pay close attention to these forecasts.  They will go to parks, shrines and temples with family and friends and hold a "flower viewing party" known as hanami (花見).  Hanami (花見, Hanami lit. "flower viewing") is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, "flower" in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms (桜 or 櫻, sakura), or ume blossoms (梅, ume).  Hanami festivals celebrate the beauty of sakura, and for many, it is a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful view.  Hanami custom in Japan dates back to many centuries ago.  It is witten in Nihon Shoki (日本書紀) that the Hanami festival were already held in the 3rd century.

Here are some pictures that I took from the parking lot and on the road next to Kamigo, where I work.