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Why Japan’s Cherry Blossoms Are Different This Year

By Matt Villano

Apr 7, 2017

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The blooms are happening earlier this year—which isn’t a cause for celebration.

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Cherry blossom trees across Japan have exploded in various shades of pink in recent weeks as part of sakura, the annual cherry blossom season.

The spectacle, which truly is a sight to behold, is one of Japan’s biggest annual tourism draws, and hotels in and around Kyoto—the city most commonly associated with the pink blooms—are pretty much booked solid throughout April and May. 

From a travel perspective, the spectacle is a home run: a once-a-year phenomenon that is best experienced in person. But recent scientific data about the peak of cherry blossom season over time paints a much more alarming picture—one that demonstrates clearly how much Earth’s climate has changed. 

The data was summarized in a recent blog post from the Economist. With the help of a detailed chart, the story explains that blossoms have emerged much sooner in recent decades than they once did. The data indicates that from 1829, when full bloom came on or around April 22, the typical full-flowering date has drifted earlier and earlier. Case in point: Since 1970, the peak blossom has landed on or around April 7, a difference of more than two weeks. 

Similar shifts have been recorded closer to home; the article notes that the kick-off date for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., also has moved up by five days since 1921.

(Heck, there’s even a Blossom Trail in Fresno, California, that has seen blooms earlier in recent years.)

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Why is the spectacular bloom happening earlier each year? In a phrase: global warming. In a recent article published by the Royal Meteorological Society, two Japanese scientists explain cherry trees determine bloom readiness on temperatures in February and March. The researchers say warmer temperatures in these months during recent seasons have tricked the trees into popping with color earlier every year. 

The takeaway for travelers? Plan ahead. Whether you’re flying to Washington, D.C., or to Kyoto to experience cherry blossom season next year, check local weather forecasts to get a sense of when peak viewing might be.

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