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Japan: Earliest cherry blossom season peak on record

Richard Connor
March 30, 2021

Japan's famous cherry blossoms have reached full bloom earlier this year than at any time since formal records began. Experts say climate change is the likely cause.

People wearing masks enjoy viewing cherry blossoms in full bloom at Ueno Park in Taito Ward, Tokyo on March 26, 2021.
Often seen as a symbol of the fleeting and fragile nature of life, this year's cherry blossom events were marred by COVID-related restrictions and guidelinesImage: Kunihiko Miura/AP Photo/picture alliance

Japanese cherry blossom lovers have been seeing their favorite time of year come ever earlier in recent times, with 2021 proving to be a record year.

The nation's favorite flower, called "sakura" — at one time very much an April phenomenon — has started to burst into bloom regularly in late March.

Japan | Kirschblüte in Chiyoda
The season peaked earlier than any in centuries, according to research conducted in JapanImage: Makoto Kondo/AP Photo/picture alliance

Peak bloom in the ancient capital of Kyoto was reached on March 26 this year, the earliest since the Japan Meteorological Agency started collecting the data in 1953.

The date is 10 days ahead of the 30-year average, with similar records set this year in more than a dozen cities across Japan.

The flowers have been a strong influence on Japanese culture for centuries. They are regularly used in poetry and literature and their fragility is viewed as a symbol of life, death and rebirth.

Hanami viewing parties, with picnics — often with alcohol — are often organized beneath the trees.

The Japanese government this week lifted a COVID virus state of emergency in the Tokyo area. However, city governor Yuriko Koike still warned residents to "avoid cherry blossom viewing parties" to prevent a coronavirus resurgence.

People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus take pictures of cherry blossoms Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Tokyo.
Japan's caseload is not that high, with restrictions in Tokyo recently eased, but officials urged people to be more cautious than normalImage: Kiichiro Sato/AP/picture alliance

Indicator for climate change

Blossom-loving experts say this year's bloom is the earliest peak bloom ever in Kyoto, based on records from old documents, diaries and poetry books from the city.

Osaka Prefecture University environmental scientist Yasuyuki Aono told the AP news agency that he believed the earliest blooms before this year had been on March 27. Those had been in the years 1612, 1409 and 1236, although records are missing for some years.

The Japan Meteorological Agency tracks 58 "benchmark" cherry trees across the country. The trees are sensitive to temperature changes. The timing of their blooming can provide valuable data for climate change studies.

"We can say it's most likely because of the impact of the global warming," Shunji Anbe, an official at the agency's observations division, told the Associated Press.

Data shows that the average temperature for March in Kyoto has climbed to 10.6 degrees Celsius (51.1 F) in 2020 from 8.6 Celsius in 1953.

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