Here’s a list of Japanese trees you should know about. Check it out!
Japan is made up of 6,852 islands.So it’s no wonder that it is home to a vast biodiversity. Japan is home to lush forests that boast of a number of unique tree species that are cultivated for their beauty around the world.
These trees thrive in a temperate climate, similar to that found in Japan. Trees native to Japan have found their way into gardens and streets across the world. They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate large or small landscaping plans.
What role do trees play in the Japanese culture?
Plants and flowers hold a very important place in Japanese culture. Many of them symbolize health, strength, longevity, and so on. Some are even modified and used as family crests.
Some trees hold a lot of significance during the holidays, like ‘matsu’ or pine trees and ‘take’ or bamboo. Branches of these two trees go into making ‘kadomatsu’ which is a traditional Japanese decoration used during New Years celebration in Japan.
Trees like ‘sugi’ or Japanese cedar is worshipped as part of Japanese traditions. These evergreen trees are believed to represent longevity and power that is associated with the powerful samurai clans.
There are many folklores about sacred trees that are passed down through many generations. It is believed that trees are home to kami and the spirits of nature.
The Japanese have always had profound adoration and respect for all aspects of nature.
This has led them to coexist with nature peacefully. Like other aspects of nature, trees also play a role in Japanese values and traditions.
List of Japanese Trees
There are a number of trees native to Japan, spread across the country’s many islands. Here is a list of the most popular Japanese trees.
Sakura or Cherry Blossoms
Japanese name: Sakura | Latin name: Prunus spp.
Cherry blossoms have become one of the most popular Japanese trees and are also considered to be the national flower of Japan. They are known across the globe for their ornamental beauty.
The blooming of cherry blossoms is known to mark the beginning of spring. Cherry blossoms can come in colours ranging from pale ink to bright pink and even white or ivory.
There are many species of sakura, out of which the Yoshino cherry trees are the most popular variety. These trees are large and can reach heights of twenty to forty feet with canopies that can be as large as fifteen to thirty feet.
Peak bloom is usually around April 4th. This is when Hanami takes place. During the Nara period (710-794 CE), members of the Imperial court would gather below sakura trees to view and appreciate these pink and white blossoms. This is where the tradition of ‘Hanami’ originated.
Today, this tradition has become an informal festival where Japanese people gather under cherry blossom trees to enjoy picnics with family and friends.
Another tradition is ‘Yozakura’, which is when paper lanterns are hung on these trees and people enjoy their late night picnics in the romantic glow of the lanterns.
Cherry blossom petals are edible. They have found their way into commercial businesses in the form of flavours and fragrances. They can be found in teas, pickles, sweets and even in a few varieties of alcohol.
Cherry blossom fragrances are some of the most popular fragrances in the world like the Bath and Body Works Japanese Cherry Blossom Fine Fragrance Body Mist and the Yves Rocher Cherry Bloom Eau De Toilette.
Cherry blossoms are also beneficial in skincare. They are known to be full of antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties and also repair damaged skin.
Another recent trend are cherry blossom tattoos. Since cherry blossoms hold so much significance, they have become a popular choice for body art as well.
Japanese Maple Trees
Japanese name: Momiji | Latin name: Acer palmatum
There are many species of Japanese maple trees, the most common being Acer palmatum. They are considered to be a symbol of peace and serenity. They are often referred to as ‘kito’ which means calm, rest or peace.
The bright red foliage have been capturing the eyes and hearts for centuries. Traditionally, planting a Japanese maple tree is a way of welcoming the autumn season. ‘Momiki-gari’ is a Japanese tradition that is dedicated to visiting mountains to view wild maple trees during fall.
Most japanese people believe that this is a form of communication with nature and the spirits who live in the trees.
During fall, Japanese mountains turn bright red, yellow and orange because of the maple trees. These magnificent trees have become a popular theme in Japanese art and poetry.
Most of them talk about or depict the falling of maple leaves. Maple leaf motifs are a common sight in Japan. They are often seen on kimonos, hand fans and wall scroll paintings. They are also a common choice for tattoos as they represent elegance and peace.
The art of bonsai has gained a lot of popularity in the recent past as home decor. Japanese maple trees are one of the most common trees used because they adapt to different climates easily and have beautiful colours.
Fried maple leaves have become a delicacy in Osaka. Maple leaves are stored for a year in barrels of salt and then dipped in tempura batter and deep fried for a unique taste.
Japanese Pine Trees
Japanese Name: Akamatsu | Latin Name: Pinus densiflora
“Matsu’ is the Japanese name for pine trees. The word ‘matsu’ means ‘waiting for the soul of a god to descend from heaven’ in Japanese. There are ancient Shinto beliefs that gods ascended to heaven on pine trees.
Before the Edo period, samurai armors and katana were decorated using pine branches because pine trees were associated with masculinity. So it is no wonder that these splendid trees hold so much significance in Japanese culture.
In the Japanese culture, pine trees are supposed to be a symbol for good fortune, longevity and steadfastness. These evergreen trees are a part of the New Year tradition in Japan and represent rebirth, renewal, and a hopeful future. Pine branches are part of ‘kadomatsu’ used in New Year decorations.
Pine trees are often found on the Shinto shrine grounds. Visitors tie ‘omikuji’ or paper fortunes to their branches. These trees are believed to ward off bad luck and evil spirits and so it is a common sight to see larger shrines growing pine trees along their perimeter.
After the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011, a forest of 70,000 pine trees was destroyed, except for a single pine tree. This tree has come to be known as a national symbol for resilience and determination.
Known as ‘take’ in Japan, bamboo has long been known for its sturdy root structure that is believed to hold the earth together. This is why people were asked to seek refuge in bamboo groves during earthquakes. Bamboo is a symbol of prosperity in Japan. When combined with pine and plum, known as ‘sho-chiku-bai’, it symbolizes long life, hardiness and vitality.
Bamboo has been a part of ancient tales for many centuries. One popular narrative is that of “Taketori Monogatari” also known as “Kaguya-him” or the princess Kagayu. There are many expressions that are used around Japan that are inspired by bamboo.
Expressions like “ki ni take o tsuida yo da” (like bamboo grafted onto a tree), “take ni ki tsugu” (putting bamboo and wood together), “yabuisha” (incompetent doctor quack created by combining the words “yabu” which means bamboo, and “isha” which means doctor), and “yabuhebi” (to reap ill-fortune from an unnecessary act) are common.
Bamboo is also believed to bring luck and ward off evil. Bamboo and bamboo grass are a common sight at Japanese festivals. During the Tanabata festival, people write their wishes on slips of paper and then tie them to bamboo grass. There is also a Shinto shrine that has a bamboo forest growing along its perimeter to act as a barrier against evil.
The Japanese have used bamboo in their daily life for centuries. Bamboo is used in construction, to make handicrafts and is also a big part of the Japanese cuisine.
Japanese Name: Sugi | Latin Name: Cryptomeria japonica
Also known as ‘sugi’, Japanese cedars are the national trees of Japan. They are evergreen trees that are native exclusively to the islands of Japan. They are large trees that can grow to a height of over 100 feet and a trunk diameter of ten feet.
The wood of these trees are soft and can easily be obtained as straight logs. Hence they are commonly used in the construction of bridges, ships, lamp posts, furniture, and fences. The leaves of these cedars have a wonderful aroma and so are used in the making of incense sticks.
The most famous Japanese cedar is Yakushima’s ancient Jōmon Sugi, which is against Japanese cedar that is believed to be between 2,000 to 7,200 years old. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
List of Japanese trees: FAQs
What is the most popular tree in Japan?
Sakura or cherry blossoms are the most popular trees in Japan. The delicate pink or white flowers reach peak bloom around April 4th.
How many species of trees are there in Japan?
There are about 4,500 native plant species in Japan.
What is the national tree of Japan?
Japanese cedar is the national tree of Japan.
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