Cherry blossoms are small pink flowers produced by cherry blossom trees. They are of particular significance in Japanese culture and therefore, unsurprisingly, appear most often in Japanese-style tattoos.
In this article, we’ll go over the meaning and symbolism of cherry blossoms and look at some of the most popular ideas for blossom tree tattoo designs.
About cherry blossoms
Let’s start by taking a look at the flowers themselves. Cherry blossom trees are native to Asia, particularly Japan, China, South Korea, and India.
They bloom in the spring and are quite the sight to behold – millions of these flowers appear on the trees, in a spectacle impressive and significant enough to merit its own festival in Japan.
The delicate flowers bloom for only two weeks. At the end of this period, the petals drop down from the trees, which won’t bloom again for another year.
Cherry blossoms in Japanese culture
Cherry blossoms are the national flowers of Japan, where they’re known as sakura, and are highly significant in the country’s culture. The most prominent example of this is the centuries-old tradition of hanami.
The word ‘hanami’ literally means ‘watching blossoms’, and the custom involves bringing food and drink to viewing spots to enjoy the sight of the blossoming trees with friends and family.
During hanami, schools and workplaces also hold welcome parties. This is a chance to bond and make new friends.
At night, hanami is called yozakura. Couples take advantage of the romantic atmosphere granted by the blossoming trees at night.
Cherry blossom tattoo meaning
In general, cherry blossoms are associated with spring, a time of renewal, and the impermanent and fleeting nature of life.
Japanese cherry blossom tattoo meaning
From a Buddhist perspective, cherry blossoms can be seen as a metaphor for human existence and its impermanent nature.
Since the flowers bloom for such a short period of time each year, they serve to remind us of the fleeting nature of life – which ties in with Buddhist themes of mortality, mindfulness, and living in the present moment.
Optimism is another meaning tied to cherry blossoms, again related to the flowers’ short-lived nature. They are often understood as a metaphor for the belief that regardless of how hard life gets, there always comes a time of renewal and beauty.
At the same time, they serve to remind us that even something as impressive and beautiful as the cherry blossoms doesn’t last forever, so we should live every moment to the fullest and take advantage of every good thing that happens in our lives.
In Japan, cherry blossoms were also closely tied to Samurai traditions. Samurai were thought of as both brave and noble – the cherry blossom tree reflects this through its juxtaposing elements of a strong and steady trunk and delicate, fragile flowers.
The samurai were also aware that their lives could be cut short at any moment and had to treat death with acceptance – which again refers back to the cherry blossom’s short-lived flowers.
Cherry blossom flowers that have fallen to the ground are supposed to be symbolic of a fallen Samurai. Interestingly, kamikaze pilots used this flower as a symbol of their mission. Kamikaze were Japanese pilots during World War II whose missions involved deliberately crashing into enemy targets, killing the pilot in the process.
Chinese cherry blossom tattoo meaning
The meaning of cherry blossoms is somewhat different in China than in Japan, though the flower has no less symbolic value. In China, it’s considered symbolic of power – most often feminine power and feminine dominance, including notions of feminine beauty and sexuality.
Cherry blossom tattoos from a Chinese standpoint also symbolize beauty, life, and good luck.
Cherry blossom tattoo designs
Cherry blossoms can be represented in tattoos in a number of different styles, and can be combined with other elements to create even more meaningful designs. Popular choices include:
- Realistic cherry blossom tattoo – photo-realistic tattoos, sometimes referred to as 3D tattoos, aim to represent reality as closely as possible, sometimes to the point of creating an optical illusion. Cherry blossoms don’t make for particularly complex tattoo elements, which means it’s not overly difficult to represent them realistically in a tattoo. Oftentimes, the flowers will be scaled up – made larger than in real life – for the purposes of the tattoo.
- Watercolor cherry blossom tattoo – the watercolor tattoo style mimics the look of watercolor paintings – using colors that are vivid but light as if slightly watered down in places and running into each other. In the case of cherry blossom designs, the entire tattoo can be done in watercolor style, or it may include more solid outlines.
- Traditional style cherry blossom tattoo – the traditional style of tattooing involves relatively heavy black outlines with a more or less solid color fill. Little, if any, shading is involved. This makes for a bold, high-contrast tattoo that doesn’t strive for the realism of 3D designs or for the brush-stroke effect of watercolors.
- Cherry blossom and samurai tattoo – as we’ve already seen, in Japanese culture the cherry blossom is closely tied to the samurai. It’s understandable, therefore, why these two elements are often combined – usually in the form of the image of a samurai surrounded by cherry blossom flowers.The meaning of samurai tattoos tends to be derived from the values represented by the samurai – primarily symbolizing strength and courage. Further meanings include honor, self-discipline, adherence to moral codes, and respect. Although traditionally, samurai tattoos have been worn as sleeve, full-back, or even full-body tattoos, modern interpretations include smaller designs, such as half-sleeves or shoulder pieces.
- Cherry blossom and Buddha tattoo – if the meaning of cherry blossom related to Buddhism is the one that speaks to you most and reflects your understanding of the symbol most accurately, this design is definitely worth considering.It’s important to remember that for Buddhists, a tattoo with the image of Buddha placed anywhere below the waist (such as on your thigh or anywhere on your legs) is likely to be seen as offensive and disrespectful to the religion – so it’s best to place the tattoo on the top half of your body, such as on your arms, back, or shoulders.
- Cherry blossom and kanji tattoo – kanji are the characters used in the Japanese writing system. Cherry blossoms can be combined with words or sentences written out in kanji for a fully Japanese-themed tattoo.There are plenty of online resources for kanji translations to help you get your design right and visualize what your writing is going to look like. It’s highly recommended to check more than one source before choosing a kanji translation, though – we’ve all heard stories of people getting Chinese or Japanese writing tattoos that meant something completely different than intended. Consulting a Japanese person would be ideal before having kanji permanently tattooed on your skin!
- Cherry blossom and hummingbird tattoo – this one’s a highly popular choice in recent years in particular. Although hummingbirds aren’t native to the same countries as the cherry blossom, as symbols the two go together really well. Among other things, hummingbirds are symbolic of being present in the moment (mindful), enjoying life, and positivity.
- Cherry blossom single flower tattoo – if you’re thinking of getting a small, minimalistic tattoo, it could be helpful to consider a single cherry flower. This option can look truly beautiful in an understated, delicate way, all while still conveying the full meaning that larger cherry tree tattoos hold. This design will also be highly discrete – it’s not only small, but because the flower is light pink in color, it won’t contrast too highly with your skin and therefore won’t be immediately visible.
Cherry blossom tattoo placements
Cherry blossoms can work great as the subject of all but the smallest of tattoos – and even then, there are ways to represent them in minimalistic ways, as described above regarding the single-flower design idea.
For small tattoos, some of the best placement options include the wrist, the back or side of the neck, the ankle or side of the foot, or the space along the collarbone. The placement will, to some extent, dictate the best design options – and the other way around.
For instance, if you’re sure you want your tattoo to be placed below your collarbone, an elongated design that follows the line of the collarbone will usually be the best choice.
Cherry blossom back tattoos have been highly popular lately, and these usually involve medium designs that use the ‘negative space’ to their advantage. For instance, medium to large cherry tree tattoos on just one side of the back, counterbalanced by kanji on the other side, look truly incredible.
Cherry blossom tattoos are a great choice for both men and women, representing a range of deeply significant values and meanings in Japanese and Chinese cultures and beyond.
Additionally, capturing a symbol of the fleeting nature of time in a timeless, permanent tattoo carries its own meaning and weight. Check out our huge gallery of cherry blossom tattoos below for design ideas and inspiration!