Celebrating the ‘roots’ of UI cherry blossoms


Sidney Malone

Students and community members pack the walkways and green spaces at the Arboretum on April 16. Education associate for the Japan House Diana Liao shares the history and significance of the Cherry Blossom towards Japanese culture and the University.

By Nicole Littlefield, Contributing Writer

In mid-April every year, students and C-U community members come to see the pink and white Japanese cherry blossoms bloom at the Japan House. However, not many are aware of the history behind the University’s trees.

In the Japanese language, cherry blossoms are called “sakura,” which symbolizes a time of renewal, birth and death. Diana Liao, an education associate for the Japan House, explained the significance of the cherry blossom trees to the University and Japanese culture.

“In Japanese culture, the charm of cherry blossoms is their fleeting quality, which reminds us of the impermanence of life and how to appreciate the present,” Liao said in an email. “Usually, they can blossom from as early as late March through April, and if we’re lucky, blossoms can still be spotted in early May.”

The goal of the Japan House has been to teach traditional Japanese arts and culture primarily through a Japanese tea ceremony, or chadō. Tea ceremonies were where the sakura trees planted their roots.

In 1998, the Urasenke Foundation and the foundation’s 15th head, Dr. Genshitsu Sen, donated three traditional Japanese tea rooms to the Japan House. Japanese master carpenter, Seiji Suzuki, was sent by the Urasenke Foundation to install the tea rooms.

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When Dr. Sen returned for the Japan House’s 10th anniversary in 2008, he mentioned to the former Japan House director, Kimiko Gunji, that having more greenery would promote a more tranquil environment. 

According to Liao, the Japan House only consisted of a dry rock garden and a tea garden. So, to fulfill his vision, Dr. Sen donated 50 cherry blossoms. Three types of trees were donated: Yoshino, Sargent and weeping.

“Real sakura trees tend to be specially grown in nurseries then transported to be planted at arboretums and botanical gardens,” Liao said. “It was such an incredible gift from Dr. Sen and the (Urasenke Foundation) to offer not just a couple of sakura trees, but fifty.” 

With the help of Dr. Sen’s gardener, Katsuo Kubo, the cherry blossoms were planted, and the Sen Cherry Tree Allée — a tree canopy — was created.

Cherry blossoms were not common in the area and not suited for the harsh winters of the midwest. So every year, it has been a gamble on when the trees will bloom. This year, the sakura trees bloomed in mid-April.

“Since then, we see thousands of visitors come through each year to enjoy the flowers and views of the gardens,” Liao said. “They’ve come quite a long way since their planting, and are quite large now.”

Erin Han, freshman in LAS, visited the Japan House for the second time on Friday. She said that previously she had missed the sakura tree’s prime.

“(The first time), we came too late in the year,” Han said. “We were going to look at the plants and stuff, but everything was dead. This visit has been much nicer! It’s warmer, so that’s good.”

Similarly, Gouri Vinod, junior in Engineering, also visited the Japan House with friends. 

“It’s very pretty,” Vinod said. “We were planning on having a picnic here and just look at the cherry blossoms. We are also planning on taking a few photos.” 


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