Japan Has Cherry Trees Blooming–in October!

cherry trees Mukojima in Tokyo

Scene from cherry blossom season at Mukojima in Tokyo, taken during my trip to Japan in March 2013 to do research for my biography of Eliza Scidmore. (Photo: Diana Parsell)

Cherry blossom buds are popping open in parts of Japan. Not all of the iconic trees are affected, by a long shot. But there have already been several hundred sightings of early blooms, according to an article in the New York Times.

That’s six months ahead of schedule, of course. And the phenomenon appears to be unprecedented. Weather experts think it’s related to the major typhoon that swept across Japan in September.

One horticulturalist explained that the freak blossoms are probably appearing so early because strong winds from the typhoon stripped the trees of their leaves. It seems the foliage contains a chemical that helps to hold blooming in check.

Officials say changing climate patterns are affecting even the normal spring blooming period of cherry trees. Are we surprised?

For more than a thousand years, cherry trees in Japan typically bloomed in mid-April. That’s been pushed up to early April. A similar pattern has occurred in Washington, with the first of April as the general peak date for the world-famous cherry trees in Potomac Park.

As we know so well in Washington, the blooming date is always fickle. Many years we’ve had late-season snowfalls that nip the cherry blossoms in the bud.

The latest freak blooming in Japan isn’t expected to substantially affect the normal spring season of hanami, or cherry-tree viewing. Most of the country’s trees weren’t affected by the recent storms.

Also, as in Washington, Japan has a great variety of cherry trees. They bloom at different times and in different places.

When I was in Japan in March 2013, doing research for my book on Eliza Scidmore, it was interesting to watch TV maps of the sakura zensen β€” cherry blossom wave β€” as it moved across the country.

On Japan’s southern, subtropical islands of Okinawa, the blossoms open as early as January. On the northern island of Hokkaido the bloom date is as late as May. For most major cities in between that zone, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, early April is generally the cherry blossom season.

A few years ago The Washington Post produced a nice video showing how to follow the progress of cherry tree buds to estimate the time of peak blooming.

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  1. Andrea on October 18, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    I would like to go back and explore more of Japan!

    • Diana Parsell on October 19, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      I want to return as well, Andrea. My March 2013 trip limited to Yokohama and Tokyo. Thought of going this fall to see maples in color in Kyoto, etc., but timing didn’t work. Maybe next year.

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