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Cherry Blossom

Clouds of cherry blossom are among Japan’s most recognisable sights, and a symbol of the nation. Each year, revellers gather beneath the trees to celebrate the dramatic pink blooms. The flowers’ sudden fading is used in poetry and art as a symbol of life’s fragility.

Below is a selection of Japanese works in the Royal Collection which incorporate cherry blossom.

 

Embroidered Folding Screen

Crop of RCIN 42073

Embroidered folding screen | RCIN 42037 ©

Iida and Co., Kyoto
RCIN 42037
c.1880–1900


A glossy-feathered crane looks up at a flowering cherry tree, indicating the much-anticipated transition from winter to spring. A combination of traditional long and short stitches has been used to blend the shades of the petals and stems.

The richly embroidered silk panel is part of a folding screen representing the four seasons.

 

Spring Beauty of Kyoto

Crop of RCIN 2862260

Cherry blossom canopy (Spring Beauty of Kyoto) | RCIN 2862260 ©

Okamoto Tōyō
RCIN 2862260
c.1925–9


This tranquil photograph dates from 1929 and shows Kyoto, the former imperial capital, at cherry blossom season. The startling bright canopy has been deliberately framed by a dark backdrop of evergreen pine. The pastoral scene, devoid of buildings, offers a visual escape from the urban transformation of city. Photographer Okamoto Tōyō captured these images using a simple vest-pocket camera – a straightforward technique which allowed him to immortalise a fleeting moment as he meandered through Kyoto’s blooming gardens.

Vase

Crop of RCIN 152

Vase (detail) | RCIN 152.1 ©

Keida Masataro, Uehara Kumaji et al.
RCIN 152.1
1900–22


Soft pink blooms seem to dissolve into the cream glaze of this vase, hinting at the flower’s delicacy.

Combining a white body with delicate gold and polychrome enamel decoration was a particular speciality of potters from the Satsuma domain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This harmonious palette is well-suited to the light hues of cherry blossom.

The vase is one of a pair, accompanied by a contrasting piece with chrysanthemums to represent autumn.

Four-fold Embroidered Screen

Crop of RCIN 29941

Four-fold embroidered screen | RCIN 29941 ©

Kawashima, Kyoto
RCIN 29941
c.1970–71


Courtiers play kickball (kemari) beneath swirling cherry blossom in this scene from Japan’s most famous work of literature, the Tale of Genji, which was composed by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the eleventh century. Throughout the novel, cherry blossom serves both as a physical setting for important moments in the narrative, and as a metaphor for beauty and futility. Silk thread on a gold ground adds to a sense of the season’s freshness.