Cover Photo: An  illustration  of a hand opening  a box—cherry blossoms flow out of the box. Ribbons of  yellow, white, blue, fill the  background.
Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult

Budding History: On Nationalism and Cherry Blossoms

Through myth-making and symbolism, the natural world comes to stand in for potent human ideals.

The Lives of Others

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Prunus serrulataPrunus pseudocerasus

European travelersPrunus serrulatawords of nineteenth-century botanist John Lindley

1893 handbook for young Japanese botanists“the queen/king of flowers in Japanese.”

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anthropologist Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney writes,

Alfred Crosby famously arguedintroduction of non-native species

Trace

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Japanese scientists have been collating dataninth century

arrive earlier

Instead of snow, pale petals dusted the ground in January.

When the cherries bloomed again in March, the pandemic was upon us. Wearing masks and sunglasses, my husband and I strolled with our dog beneath the cherries along the Wall. We marveled at their pinks against the grey. This was a land marked by loss—but the trees stretched their roots beneath it, and scattered the path with petals, indifferent perhaps. It seemed wondrous that cherry blossoms could hold the weight of histories we’ve laid upon them, even briefly, before the flowers fell again.

Author and Environmental Historian. Books: Turning (2017) and Two Trees Make a Forest (2019; forthcoming in the US/Canada 2020). Founding editor at The Willowherb Review. @jessicajlee on Twitter and Instagram. More at: jessicajleewrites.com