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The Sakura of Spring: Cherry Blossoms in Portland Japanese Garden

Two parents and their small children look at a weeping cherry tree in Portland Japanese Garden.
A family enjoying the weeping cherry’s full bloom in years past. Photo by Jonathan Ley.

There is perhaps no flower more associated with Japan than sakura, or cherry blossoms. Not technically the national flower of Japan (which has no bloom designated as such), it is nonetheless deeply meaningful to the nation. Every year, people throughout Japan take part in hanami, cherry blossom viewing events, which can range from jubilant parties to more subdued affairs that prioritize quiet mindfulness of their ephemeral beauty.

These seasonal festivities date back centuries. Author and journalist Naoko Abe writes in her book, The Sakura Obsession, that in 812 the Imperial family held a cherry-blossom viewing party for the first time. During Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), the annual celebrations became an event for people outside the aristocracy as thousands of cherries were planted in public places. These joyful gatherings under the blooms have not remained confined to Japan—there are multiple locations throughout the United States that see throngs of sakura seekers in spring.

Photographers taking photo
The weeping cherry in the Flat Garden always attracts photographers in spring. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Diane Durston, Curator Emerita of Portland Japanese Garden, noted in an article published in The Washington Post that the fleeting beauty of these flowers and their popularity is no coincidence. “What more lasting and meaningful gift could the Japanese have sent us than these trees symbolizing their abiding cultural affinity for nature and its evanescence?” she writes. “There is something about the fragile beauty of cherry blossoms that has captivated the imagination of the Japanese for centuries. They bloom early in spring, last just a few days, and fall with the first rains. The samurai of centuries past wrote countless poems using the cherry blossoms as a metaphor for their own all too brief lives.”

Time under the cherry trees, like time in a Japanese garden, can be a moving experience. How can a life so chaotic also hold such beauty? How can a quiet moment in nature refresh the human spirit so completely?

Diane Durston, Curator Emerita

Every Year is Different – Gauging When the Sakura Will Bloom

Cherry trees in Portland Japanese Garden.
Cherry Tree Hill in the Strolling Pond Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

The bloom of cherry blossoms is one of the most joyous times of year in Portland Japanese Garden. Every year brings a host of different weather conditions, so it can be difficult to predict when blooms will reach their peak form. Furthermore, the sight of sakura around the city of Portland does not necessarily indicate that the Garden has been adorned in pink and white—our elevation and placement in Washington Park attunes to a different natural schedule.

That said, it is often near the end of March that we begin to see flowers come into view and by mid-April when the petals start to fall. To help visitors plan their visit, we’ve created a cherry blossom tracking page that is regularly updated beginning in March and through the first few weeks of April.

There is joy to be found in the waiting. “We always enjoy spring, but we might enjoy the feeling that it is coming even more. It’s that anticipation that is the most exciting part,” Hugo Torii, the Garden Curator of Portland Japanese Garden, shares.

Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Portland Japanese Garden

The weeping cherry in the Flat Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Some areas throughout Portland, Oregon offer a dazzling abundance of cherry blossoms to enjoy, such as the Tom McCall Waterfront Park alongside the Willamette River. Portland Japanese Garden takes a different approach, with a more curated collection specifically placed to create tableaus that harmonize the white and pink blooms with the many hues of green throughout our landscape.

Flat Garden

A weeping cherry tree in full peak bloom in front of a pavilion in Portland Japanese Garden
A weeping cherry tree, seen in the Flat Garden. Photo by Jonathan Ley.

Perhaps the most likely harbinger of spring is in our Flat Garden: the weeping cherry. With almost neon pink blooms, its peak blooms introduce a dynamic vibrancy to the landscape. In fact, because it commands so much attention, Portland Japanese Garden’s original designer, Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University, mandated there only be one weeping cherry on our grounds, guidance the organization still follows to this day. Like so many of the Garden’s beloved flora, the weeping cherry was a gift donated by the family of Dr. George Y. Marumoto in the 1960s. Initially planted on a street that was being widened in Northeast Portland, the Marumotos were able to see the tree avoid destruction in a fitting new home. It’s thought to be somewhere between 80 and 100 years old and is approximately 15 feet in height.

Strolling Pond Garden

Cherry Tree Hill in the Strolling Pond Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Cherry Tree Hill is the name fittingly bestowed upon the grassy hillock that faces the Heavenly Falls in the Strolling Pond Garden. The cherry trees here are of the Yoshino variety, a ubiquitous kind found in Japan today. Naoko Abe notes in The Sakura Obsession that at the dawn of the 21st century, four of every five cherry trees in western Japan were Yoshino and that aside from the nation’s mountains that approximately 70% of all planted cherries are Yoshinos. Their beauty, softer and more subdued than the weeping cherry, is ephemeral with blooms lasting only a little more than a week.

Umami Café

A cherry tree next to the Umami Café. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

One of the best ways to experience the cherry blossoms of Portland Japanese Garden is by sitting in their company at the Umami Café. With a design reminiscent of Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera temple, the Umami Café floats over the hillside and provides views of the area’s natural beauty, including a Yoshino cherry that hugs its side. Between its tea and light bites, the Umami Café is the perfect place to enjoy these milder days.

Become a Member Today!

The cherry tree next to the Umami Café. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

If you’re as excited for the cherry blossoms as we are, we highly recommend becoming a Garden member. Not only will you be able to make regular visits to see the progress of our cherry blossoms in person, you’ll be able to view them during exclusive hours, as well as enjoy a host of many other benefits and perks.