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Spot The Differences: The Five Main Varieties Of Sakura

Spot The Differences: The Five Main Varieties Of Sakura

Translated by Hilary Keyes

Written by Ito Kentaro

2020.01.04 Bookmark

When people speak of cherry blossoms in Japan, many people assume that there are just one type of these spring blossoms, but there are actually over 20 different subspecies! Here we introduce 5 of the most commonly found sakura in Japan.

Different Types of Sakura in Japan

When viewing the cherry blossoms in Japan, you may find yourself wondering about the slight variations in color, size and blooming season of these spring favorites. There are over 20 different subspecies of sakura that bloom in Japan annually. Different locations are well known for having a certain type, or there might only one of a specific tree in a given place - which make these trees stand out. But what about the others?

Today, we’ll take a look at the five main types of cherry trees that can be easily spotted once you know what to look for.

1. Somei Yoshino

Photo courtesy of: mayfly on Flickr

Somei yoshino (Yoshino cherry) are the most common type of sakura in Japan, and indeed are what many people think of right away when they hear the word ‘sakura’. Blooming before their green leaves even appear, these five-petaled cherry blossoms are almost white, having only the vaguest hint of pink to them. The name somei yoshino comes from a village market that existed during the late Edo era, where it is said that these flowers were first sold.

2. Yama Zakura

Photo courtesy of: Hinako Torino on Flickr

Yama zakura, or mountain cherry, have quite similar flowers to somei yoshino, having five petals and a very subtle pink hue, but unlike somei yoshino, the leaves of the yama zakura appear at the same time.
This is one of the oldest species of sakura original to Japan, and it is believed that, when reading ancient Japanese poetry, such as in the Manyoshu, these are the sakura to which the waka (*1) refer.

*1 Waka: classical Japanese poem, composed by the nobility.

3. Yae Zakura

Photo courtesy of: yamabuki*** on Flickr

Yae zakura or double cherry blossoms, are exactly as their name implies: these sakura have between 10 and 50 petals per flower, and come in numerous color variations, ranging from pure whites to vivid pinks. Yae zakura are also known as sato zakura, and are a variant of the Oshima cherry, which grows almost exclusively in the Izu Peninsula.

4. Shidare Zakura

Photo courtesy of: komaroku on Flickr

With its branches drooping downwards like a willow tree, the shidare zakura is rightly known as the weeping cherry tree in English. There are two main types of shidare zakura, those with five petals, which are closely related to the somei yoshino, and those with more than five petals, which are related to the yae zakura. Either variety come in colors ranging from pale to vivid pinks. This cherry blossom also has the distinction of being Kyoto’s prefectural flower.

5. Gyoiko

Photo courtesy of: e_haya on Flickr

Gyoiko, which translates to ‘yellow imperial garment cherry blossoms’, are scattered throughout Japan, but many people miss seeing these sakura because of their subtle greenish yellow color. There are anywhere from five to ten layers of petals to each blossom. Because of their modest appearance and lack of calling attention to themselves, some believe that these sakura best represent the character of the Japanese.

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