Cherry blossoms (also called sakura after the Japanese term) are a beautiful symbol of the delicate fragility of things as well as the bittersweet swiftness of life.
Cherry blossoms are indigenous to much of East Asia, most notably Japan, where they hold a special cultural significance and are called sakura. Their characteristic pink petals are considered a national symbol in Japan, one that turns up not only in art but in virtually all forms of media.
Cherry blossoms, especially when blooming in large groups, are simply gorgeous. However, they bloom for only a short time each year and are exceptionally fragile against the elements. Each spring, millions of Japanese turn out in parks and temples to engage in hanami or “flower watching”, having picnics and drinks with friends under the cherry trees. As this is an extremely popular tradition, national news stations report on the blooming patterns each year so that locals can plan both festivals and informal gatherings accordingly.
However, this dazzling sight lasts a strikingly short period of time – weeks, if one is lucky, and often only days. A strong rainstorm, in fact, will simply wipe the flowers from the trees. As such, cherry blossoms are strongly associated with the idea of the impermanence of life. Delicate and beautiful, they are gone in the blink of an eye, a concept that plays into the concept of mono no aware. The term mono no aware most literally translates to “the pathos of things”, and refers to an awareness of, in essence, the fact that nothing lasts forever. Life, love, material possessions, and everything else in this world are seen within this framework as fleeting and ultimately temporary. This sentiment is important in the Buddhist tradition.
Cherry blossoms appear frequently in Asian art as well as on consumer goods as decoration. It is no surprise, then, that they also feature prominently in the tattoo world.
Particularly in designs inked on men, cherry blossoms are often incorporated into larger, more intricate designs, especially sleeves and full-body tattoos. This is commonly associated with Yakuza in Japan (mobsters, though the term isn’t quite the same). Despite its fragility and arguably feminine beauty, the cherry blossom is not strictly associated with women. Imperial Officers in World War 2 often likened their lives to those of cherry blossoms, beautiful but brief. Kamikaze pilots also painted sakura on their planes before their final missions.
Still, cherry blossoms are becoming increasingly popular as an image all their own, especially among women. Without being lost in the complexity of bigger, more dense designs, they take on a whole new life.
Note that a few petals are falling from the branches in this design. This is intentional and meaningful. The blossoms of cherry trees fall so quickly and steadily that it is more realistic, for one, but there is more at work here – again, impermanence is referenced. Even while we are observing the beauty of the blossoms, they are dying off, and the idea is that there is great beauty and wisdom to accepting this.
An excellent perk of using a cherry blossom tattoo design is that there is great flexibility in size and placement. Both small and large designs work well, as does virtually any part of the body. One may choose to picture only a few scattered flowers, or an entire tree that branches and blooms in various directions.
Additionally, because cherry blossoms are both striking and subtle, they can be incorporated with other images and even completely different styles of tattoo art smoothly. Here, blossoms are intertwined with tribal tattoos, and neither looks out of place in the slightest.
This particular design is notable for emphasizing the darker aspect of cherry blossom symbolism (that everything perishes) by making the pile of fallen blossoms strongly resemble a pool of blood. Taking existing trends in designs and making them unique in their own way is a cornerstone of creative tattooing, and this is a fine example.
Options abound for those interested in a cherry blossom tattoo design, but regardless of the specific piece of artwork, they will always carry with them the whimsical notion of beautiful impermanence.