You see the world through rose-tinted glasses at this time of year in South Korea. The country turns a ravishing shade of pink when cherry trees bloom in their millions. Their beauty is fleeting: it peaks over the course of two weeks before the blossoms start to fall.
In Korea, it’s called the beot-kkot season although people also use the borrowed Japanese word sakura (meaning cherry blossom), and refer to the activity of blossom viewing as hanami, a much-anticipated event usually involving friends or families walking or picnicking under the trees.
Part of the reason hanami is so popular is that it marks the arrival of spring. Supermarkets stock up on cherry-blossom-flavoured snacks months in advance and coffee houses devise festive drinks (cherry blossom frappuccino, anyone?). In early March, the Korea Meteorological Administration releases its forecast of when and where the fabled flowers will appear. When they finally burst into bloom, people celebrate with festivities that last for days. There are parties, concerts, even a cherry blossom marathon in the city of Gyeongju.
The Korean cherry tree, known as the king cherry, originates from Jeju Island, where the blossoming starts in late March. It is a rare plant, however, and the Yoshino variety, which is native to Japan, is more common. There are hundreds of varieties of cherry trees around the world – and the blossoms aren’t always pink.
Some of them, like the Ukon variety, change colour throughout the blooming period – turning from greenish yellow to white to pink.
These short-lived blossoms are reminiscent of the transient nature of life and are a symbol for its brevity and beauty in several Eastern cultures. After making the trees and their surroundings come alive and banishing the winter gloom, the blossoms fall, one petal at a time, like a shower of pink rain.