This stop is excerpted from Planting Edo, a field guide created in partnership with the Harvard Art Museums. The guide pairs Arboretum specimens with paintings from the Museums' exhibition Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection.
The Yoshino cherry, or Prunus × yedoensis, is now one of the most popular cherries in Japan. Typically blooming in early spring for a period of two to three weeks, their pale pink flowers fade to white when they fully open, and they have a slight almondy scent. The appearance of cherry blossoms at the beginning of spring is cause for celebration in Japan. Cherry blossom festivals might include playing games and music, singing, and writing poetry to celebrate the sublime beauty of these flowering trees.
However, there is also a note of melancholy associated with cherry blossoms, as the delicate flowers fade and fall very quickly, a characteristic that has led to their association with the ephemeral qualities not only of beauty, but of human life itself. This screen painting, Arashiyama in Spring and Takao in Autumn by Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856), depicts the magnificent blossoming cherries of Arashiyama—a meisho, or famous place, for viewing cherry blossoms near Kyoto.
Yamamoto Baiitsu, Arashiyama in Spring and Takao in Autumn, Japanese, Edo period, 1832. One from a pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on paper. Harvard Art Museums, Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg, TL42147.48. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.