The cherry blossoms (sakura; ??????, ??) have come and gone here in Tokyo, which means that spring fever is now in full effect. Of course, if you missed your chance to pen haikus about Japan’s most famous flower, fear not as cherry trees may soon be blooming in the final frontier, namely outer space!
While modern Japan is seemingly unconnected to the whims and nuances of the natural world, the Japanese still retain a tremendous amount of love and respect for the humble cherry blossom. So, what better way to inject a boost of patriotism into the country’s declining space program then by sending Japan’s most enduring symbol to the farthest reaches of mankind!
According to a recent announcement by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the organization is sending seeds to its laboratory at the International Space Station, which is currently in orbit above the Earth.
The official aim of this experiment is to observe how the seeds are affected by microgravity, though a few papers in Japan have already hinted at the future possibility of space tourism. Indeed, who could think of a better hanami (?????) or cherry blossom-viewing party than one that takes place in zero gravity!
According to officials at JAXA, this summer school children will pick about 200 fallen cherry tree seeds, including ones from three so-called “ancient trees,” which have been designated by the Japanese government as national treasures, and are regarded as producing some of the country’s most beautiful blooms.
One of the ancient trees is a Takizakura (滝桜) or “cascade cherry blossom”, which blooms annually for three weeks in the tiny rural town of Miharu, and attracts heaving crowds that number several hundreds of thousands.
If all goes according to the plan, the cherry tree seeds will be sent into orbit at a highly-publicized launch later this year. According to Ms.Yuko Otake, a spokeswoman for JAXA, “Scientific observation is one reason [for the launch]. But we also want the seeds to travel in space on our behalf as few ordinary people can go now.”
In Miharu, a small town that rarely sees much fuss and commotion outside of the cherry blossom season, there is already an incredible amount of anticipation regarding the event. According to town official Sadafumi Hirata: “We are very proud that our tree was selected among many cherry blossoms that represent Japan.” Even more excitement came from the lucky kids who will get to pick the seeds this summer for lift off in October.
Again, if all goes according to plan, the seeds will remain in outer space for six months, and then will be brought back to earth for planting. So, with a little luck, Japan may soon have its first extraterrestrial cherry tree in the years to come!
** All photos were taken by yours truly at Tokyo’s famous Shinjuku-gyoen **