Cherry Blossom Festival
One of the most beautiful sights to see in Asia in the spring of the year is the mountains of cherry blossoms - what the Japanese call Sakura -- that are in bloom from January to mid April, depending on how far north or south your location. It's a short window of opportunity, but oh so worth while if you get the chance to take in in first hand. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but pictures don't quite do the cherry blossom festivals that are held around Asia justice.
The Japanese flowering cherry, or Sakura, is a tree that is native to many countries in Asia including Japan, Korea, and China. The cherry blossom can even be found growing in India. They are widely cultivated in Asia and beyond and are highly regarded for their beauty. The flowers are very delicate and last only a matter of weeks before they are blown from or fall from their trees, and cover the ground like a thin but persistent layer of snow. Their lush beauty, followed by a quick death, has caused them to be symbolic of mortality in Asian cultures, and they were often painted on the sides of planes used by Japanese suicide bombers in WWII, who are said to have believed that their souls would be reincarnated as blossoms after death.
Cherry Blossoms in Korea
One of the most famous cherry blossom festivals in Korea every year is located on an island in the middle of Seoul called Yeoido. Although the island is only 8.4 square kilometers in area, and the area where the cherry blossom trees are located is a mere fraction of that, the island boasts more than 1400 cherry trees which line a 6km boulevard, and which are visited by over 2.5 million people a day during the festival. As you might imagine, it is very crowded, although crowds will be smaller in the early morning, or in the evening. Night is a very special treat when the cherry blossoms are illuminated, and young lovers stroll beneath the branches.
If you are planning to visit Seoul during the cherry blossom festivals, the festival on Yeoido is quite simple to find. To get to the boulevard you should take the subway to Yeoinaru station which is on line 5, or the purple line. Once you arrive there, take exit one. You can call Seoul's tourism promotion division at (02) 670-3410 for more detailed information.
The cherry blossom festival in Yeoido doesn't only involve flowering trees, but also all of the wonderful things that you might associate with any kind of Korean festival. There is any type of food you could possibly desire, from cotton candy to silkworm pupae. There are crowds (of course!), musicians, performers, evangelists, bicycles built for two and lots of traditional Korean tourist knick-knacks. There is also some really neat art, much of which incorporates flowers, such as the jeans to the right. There were give-aways and face painting, and even classic rock -- like The Drifters Under the Boardwalk -- being played over loudspeakers as you walked along.
In spite of the festive atmosphere however, the cherry blossom festival is not quite all fun and games for all the people of South Korea. The watching of cherry blossoms and the cherry blossom festivals that surround them were started in South Korea during the Japanese occupation during World War II, and thus is bittersweet for many Koreans, especially those in the older generations. Some older survivors of the Japanese occupation, which lasted 35 years and which was not kind to the Korean people, still remember a time when the cherry trees were symbols of Japanese oppression, and cannot forget. Most Korean people however, have looked past crimes committed during WW II and have embraced the cherry blossoms as their own. It doesn't hurt either that in the 1930s some Korean and Japanese botanists discovered that the trees -- although planted and cultivated by the Japanese during the occupation -- were actually native to Jeju-do, an island off the south coast of Korea, and cannot actually be found anywhere in Japan.
Besides the Yeoido Cherry Blossom Festival there are also a number of other cherry blossom festivals in Korea and throughout the world in the early spring. There are a large number of cherry blossom festivals in Japan and China, but they are also found in the United States and in Canada.
A list of cherry blossom festivals in Japan can be found here at about.com.
The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is the largest cherry blossom festival in Canada, while the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. is the largest cherry blossom festival in the United States.