The blossom of cherry trees is the national flower of Japan and a symbol of the country’s uniqueness.
The custom of admiring cherry trees in bloom is said to have started during the Nara Period (710–794) when the elite of the Imperial Court followed the Chinese custom of ume (plum) blossoms instead.
But by the Heian Period (794–1185), cherry blossoms came to attract more attention: soon spread to samurai society and, by the Edo period , to the common people as well.
Cherry trees came to be considered sacred and as a result with each passing year more trees were planted.
Under the sakura trees, people had lunch and drank sake in cheerful feasts; a tradition that is still preserved nowadays each spring, when people gather to have a stroll or a picnic under the trees in bloom.
The transience of the blossoms has often been associated with mortality and graceful acceptance of destiny and karma; for this reason cherry blossoms are richly symbolic.
To preserve this moment throughout the year, farmers specialize on harvesting the tender and more resistant flowers of the Yae-zakura variety tree. They are then traditionally dipped in plum vinegar before being pickled in salt; after this, the flowers remain in a bucket for a month to drain all the water from the petals.
Salt-pickled blossoms in hot water are called sakurayu, and drunk at festive events like weddings instead of green tea.
Yet, preserving the blossoms in sugar is a different, much rarer method that adds its own special flavour to the tea. However, getting hold of this version of sakura tea can be difficult as it is not sold so often.
Infact the making of sweet sakura takes long hours, attention to the flowers not to get broken and to preserve them properly. Here you can see a few pictures of the hand process here at Obubu.
Steeping sakura tea is a unique experience. While the petals open up floating in hot water, their exquisite beauty slowly unravels. The tea is sweet but still slightly salty, the scent of the flowers pervade the air around as if spring suddenly emerged from a single teacup. The volatility of the blossom is a symbol of beauty and transient things, a metaphor of the ephemeral nature of life.
Written by Anna Poian