‘Waterfall’ tree has bloomed for 1,000 springs

Courtesy of Miharu town government
The Miharu Takizakura cherry tree in full bloom

Miharu Takizakura is one of Japan’s “three magnificent cherry trees.” Located in the town of Miharu in Fukushima Prefecture, the tree is estimated to be over 1,000 years old.

“Takizakura” means “waterfall cherry tree,” apt nomenclature describing the tree’s drooping branches spreading out widely and, when in blossom, the flower petals that look like a stream of water cascading down a waterfall.

When I walked under the massive tree in full bloom, numerous branches and countless small blossoms filled my field of vision, and I felt like I was bathing under a beautiful light pink waterfall.

The experience is etched in my memory.

That was early in April of 2018 and my first visit to the tree.

“You’re so lucky,” an acquaintance who took me to the tree said. “It’s your first time here, and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.”

That remark is also unforgettable.

I wanted to see the spectacular view again this year, but refrained due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, I visited the Sato Sakura Museum in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, as I had heard that six large paintings depicting Miharu Takizakura are on display in an exhibition titled “Sato Sakura: 100 Views of Sakura.”

Upon entering the exhibit, to my right was a folding screen with a painting that made the tree look as if it were floating in the night sky. Myriad cherry blossom petals were depicted meticulously. I lost myself in them as the trunk, branches and ground were invisible in the darkness.

The work, titled “Shunya Miharu no Takizakura” (Spring night, A weeping cherry tree in Miharu), was painted in 1998 by Chinami Nakajima, now 75, a professor emeritus of Tokyo University of the Arts.

Courtesy of the Sato Sakura Museum
“Shunya Miharu no Takizakura” (Spring night, A weeping cherry tree in Miharu) is a four-panel folding screen, 171.5 cm x 352 cm in size, painted by Chinami Nakajima in 1998. It is in the collection of the Sato Sakura Museum.

A remark by the artist is written on a note card: “The cherry blossoms were illuminated for nighttime viewing, but the illumination was less bright than normal, at the desire of the local people. Doing so is good for the cherry tree, but it was a little dark for me to see and difficult to make a sketch.”

A local group that works to preserve the tree asks that the intensity of the illumination be minimized. Members clear weeds around the tree and dig holes in the ground to add compost.

“I used to play near Takizakura all year round when I was little,” said Fujio Hashimoto, 73, the head of the group. “I want to continue making efforts carefully to preserve the cherry tree, not only for us, but also for people who come from distant places to view its blossoms.”

Miharu Takizakura was 11.65 meters tall in 1987. It steadily grew to 13 meters in 2000 and 13.5 meters in 2007. The circumference of the trunk at the base was 11.3 meters that year.

It is said that one reason why the tree is so huge is that a feudal lord ruling the area in the Edo period (1603-1867) enjoyed viewing its blossoms and ordered local residents to take care of it in exchange for exempting them from an annual land tax on the land surrounding the tree.

A Bon Festival dance song that has been handed down in the community for generations goes: “We can reach blossoms of Takizakura, but we can’t break branches and take them away, as the tree belongs to the lord.”

When I visited Miharu Takizakura, local farmers were selling cherry, peach and plum seedlings along the roadside leading to the tree.

It is said that the name “Miharu,” which translates as “three springs,” comes from the fact that cherry, peach and plum trees — all symbolic of spring — bloom at the same time in this town.

I stopped at a stall selling sweets associated with cherry blossoms and bought one with a cherry-flavored filling, and then sat down on a bench outside to eat it over a cup of tea served by a local resident.

This year, I will have the same sweet delivered so I can savor it at home while watching Miharu Takizakura livestreamed on the town government’s website.