Each year, millions of tourists travel to Tokyo and other cities in Japan to experience the country’s world-famous cherry blossom season (known as the “sakura season”). The cherry trees usually start to blossom at the end of March or the beginning of April, but in recent years this event is starting earlier due to unusually warm weather fueled by climate change.
This year, by beginning 10 days early, cherry blossom season matched a record seen only twice before – in 2020 and 2021 – since data first began being collected in 1953.
Since late 2019, Japan’s borders were closed and large gatherings were mostly forbidden due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For these reasons, the highly anticipated viewing parties of this spectacular event (known as “hanami”), usually bringing together huge crowds of people in Japan’s public parks, did not take place. However, as the borders reopened in last October and Covid-19 restrictions have gradually been lifted, both locals and visitors have eagerly expected this year’s season.
According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, over five blossoms of the famous Somei-Yoshino cherry trees – a strain which accounts for over 90 percent of the cherry trees planted in Japan – were recently seen at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, after temperatures have been gradually rising since the beginning of March. The blossoms all over the city are expected to be in full-bloom within the next week.
“Today, on March 14, we hereby declare the sakura blossoming in Tokyo,” said an official from the agency in an announcement that came six days earlier than last year. “We’ve seen many warm days in March. Climate change may also have played a part.”
If global temperatures continue to rise, extremely early cherry blossom flowering dates could occur more regularly, according to a study published in 2022 in the journal Environmental Research Letters. “By the end of the century and under medium emissions, the early shift is estimated to further increase by almost a week. Extremely early flowering dates, as in 2021, would be rare without human influence, but are now estimated to be 15 times more likely, and are expected to occur at least once a century. Such events are projected to occur every few years by 2100 when they would no longer be considered extreme,” the authors concluded.
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