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Did Japan’s hallowed cherry trees actually originate in South Korea?

J-Cast

Did Japan’s hallowed cherry trees actually originate South Korea?

“The beloved someiyoshino variety of cherry trees isn’t really from Japan, but actually from South Korea’s Jeju Island. Even though Japanese scholars recognize this, Japan is trying to make the world believe these cherry trees are from Japan” … or so reports a South Korean newspaper.

Is there any truth to this? What’s it based on?

‘Japan just took Jeju’s sakura and cultivated them’

According to a story in the March 11 online edition of Daily Sports, published by South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, Washington, D.C., is home to the world’s most famous cherry festival, which is held every April. This year is the 101st edition of the festival, which began in 1912 when Japan gave 3,000 cherry trees to the U.S.

The trees were almost cut down during World War II because of American’s anger over Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. According to the paper, the exiled Korean statesman Syngman Rhee, who would eventually become South Korea’s first president, saved the trees by saying they originally came from Jeju, not Japan. He held a tree-planting event in Washington, D.C., in 1943 and explained that their place of origin was said to be Japan because Korea was under Japanese colonial rule at the time.

“Japanese cherry trees are actually Jeju’s royal cherry trees. Japanese just took them and cultivated them,” Daily Sports reported.

‘No scholars recognize someiyoshino originating on Jeju’

Dr. Takeshi Kinoshita, a Teikyo University professor who specializes in ethnobotany, questions on his website why major South Korean newspapers, with almost annual regularity, continue to report the same claims about someiyoshino trees originating on Jeju.

A published author and member of the university’s faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, Kinoshita writes on his website that no scholars recognized someiyoshino trees originating on Jeju and this is apparently a distorted interpretation of the facts. He explains that someiyoshino trees are a species created by crossbreeding oshimazakura and edohigan cherry trees and oshimazakura aren’t native to Jeju.

Also, someiyoshino was born out of cross pollination during Edo Period’s random gardening culture. The cherry species is reproduced not with seeds but via grafting, according to Kinoshita’s website.

Additionally, Kinoshita points out, a team composed of members of a research institute under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Seoul National University and other organizations conducted DNA tests in 2007 on someiyoshino trees in Tokyo and Washington, D.C., and wild cherry trees on Jeju.

The team concluded that “the trees on Jeju Island are a unique species and are clearly different from someiyoshino trees, which are crossbred,” Kinoshita writes. The team, however, stressed cherry trees can easily crossbreed naturally and it needs more detailed research to conclude whether Jeju cherries are unique.

Kinoshita lists the reasons why he thinks the theory of someiyoshino originating in South Korea regularly appear in the country’s mainstream media, even though there is scientific evidence proving otherwise.

First, he writes, in prewar times, Japanese scholar Genichiro Koizumi of Kyoto Imperial University based the Korean origin theory on a misunderstanding, and yet South Korea continues to repeat it.

Then there was the movement to cut down cherry trees [in South Korea] that gained steam when the clearly anti-Japanese Roh Moo-hyun administration was formed. Groups who wanted to protect the trees, including Japanese people, revived the Korean origin theory as a persuasion tactic.

Finally, Kinoshita states “it is easier to understand if you think of (South Korea) as trying to copy Japanese cultural assets and make them Korean,” adding that he fears the country may be cleverly conducting organized “cultural terrorism.”

Kinoshita states on his website that since he would like as many people as possible to know these facts, he will relinquish his copyright and allow free usage of his research.

This is an abridged translation of a story that was first published on March 17 on J-CAST News, a Tokyo-based news site established in 2004.

  • 151E

    Anyone else feel it a bit jarring the way Kinoshita goes off the rails there at the end saying, “it is easier to understand if you think of (South Korea) as trying to copy Japanese cultural assets and make them Korean”? Ummm, just like with pottery, rice, and Buddhism? Then, discarding any pretence of cool, rational, academic debate, the doctor lets slip a peculiar paranoid fantasy that South Korea may be cleverly conducting organized “cultural terrorism.” How much more persuasive he would have been if he’d stopped after his second point!

    • Daishi88

      You know, I was reading a book about the life and times of one of Japan’s deified Buddhist priests – Kobo Daishi, also known as Kuukai. So, this guy, Daishi-san, was considered so wise and so important and so holy that he is literally worshiped all throughout Japan to this day. People believe that when they walk his pilgrimage route his spirit is walking with them.

      But, in Daishi’s day? Well, according to the biography (which was written by an apparently very famous Japanese historian), in Daishi’s day, the people in Japan who were leading the nation in pottery innovations were…clans of Koreans who had immigrated to Japan. And all the advancements in city planning and government? Lead by Chinese immigrants, advising the emperor. And Daishi himself? Was of a displaced and conquered Emishi tribe, not “Yamato” Japanese. He was probably even bilingual as a child, speaking the northern dialects alongside the “standard” Japanese of his day.

      Oh, and what made Daishi so great? Well, he went to China where he adopted Chinese Buddhism (actually, Indian Buddhism, which he had to read in the original Indian script, which he learned from an Indian teacher) and brought it back to Japan. From China. As taught to him by an Indian teacher.

      So, you know, when we’re talking about one of Japan’s greatest and wisest religious leaders in all of its history – and nothing whatsoever of his life was uniquely Japanese, or even technically “Nihonjin” as many people in Japan would define it. In fact, again according to this biography, most of his philosophical writing before he became “the Daishi” was polemic against……Japan’s (then) backwards and uncivilized culture. Huh.

      It’s really, really rich, and really just pathetic to hear a Japanese scholar whine about cultural “terrorism.” I mean, if you’re going to be proud of Japan, be proud of what it actually IS. It’s just so pathetic – and flat-out offensive -when nationalists try to blame the very people who helped BUILD Japan in the first place for “copying.”

      There’s PLENTY to be proud of in Japan, and literally zero shame in acknowledging the foreign origins of things you hold dear.