One of Japan's most alluring springtime traditions is the annual cherry blossom festival — the light pink trees look absolutely breathtaking when they bloom, attracting millions of tourists from around the world who simply bask in the gorgeous pastel hues on picnic blankets in the grass below. And while things will obviously be different this year, with the festival ringing in far less tourists due to COVID-19, the trees are also blooming much earlier than usual.
Why are Japan's cherry blossoms blooming earlier in 2021 than in past years? We're exploring the strange phenomenon of the cherry blossoms' premature bloom.
What to know about Japan's earlier-than-usual cherry blossom festival:
As previously mentioned, the cherry blossom forecast is looking a little different in 2021 than it has in years prior — according Travel + Leisure, spring is arriving way ahead of schedule in Tokyo, Hiroshima, and in several other regions across Japan. In Tokyo, for example, the beloved trees are expected flower as early as March 15, which would make for a predicted "peak" by March 23, 11 full days earlier than usual.
Likewise, in Kyoto, the flowers are expected to bloom on March 17, in Osaka beginning March 20, and in Sapporo as of May 2, but what is causing the trees to flower so early? The answer is simple — spring is arriving earlier and earlier every year due to warmer weather. Increased temperatures and shorter winters cause plants, such as vegetables and flowers, to start blooming earlier in the year.
How is climate change affecting the cherry blossoms?
A while back, we covered how climate change affects allergies — rising temperatures and shorter winters basically jumpstart springtime, making it come much earlier than it has, historically. "Pollen season," which is when plants start to bloom and release their pollen loads, has moved up by about 20 days since 1990. Therefore, annual blooms like the cherry blossoms start much earlier than they have in years' past.
“This is clearly warming temperatures and more carbon dioxide putting more pollen in the air,” said Bill Anderegg, a biologist and climate scientist at the University of Utah, as per ABC News. He went on to explain this is precisely why cherry blossoms have started opening days — and sometimes weeks — earlier in Washington D.C. and in Japan, where early March used to be the norm. Now, it almost always tends to be mid-March.
It's unclear if this means that curbing climate change would actually reverse the dates of the seasons back to what they once were, or if this is a permanent change. But either way, it means you'll have to get used to having the blooms begin earlier in the calendar year.
Regardless of the cherry blossoms' unpredictable schedule, you probably won't be attending any of the 2021 cherry blossom festivals in-person this year — unless you live in Japan or in Washington D.C., of course. Otherwise, you can simply tune into some virtual livestreams and admire the gorgeous pics on Instagram.