To the delight of sakura (cherry blossom) lovers everywhere, botanists at Kyoto University have discovered a way to make cherry trees flower more than once a year and plans are already afoot to introduce pink to the autumnal palette.
By manipulating the sakura’s genetic markers, researchers say they have essentially tricked Mother Nature into reproducing spring’s bounty again in the fall.
Like so many great scientific discoveries, the breakthrough was a bit of a fluke.
Aiming to boost Japan’s rice production, the university researchers had been hard at work studying the genome of a fast-growing strain of Vietnamese rice that can be harvested up to four times a year.
“We’ve not yet been able to crack that nut,” head researcher Kohei Yoshimoto said. “Yes, we’ve produced a similar strain, which we’ve named Chumpa, that can be harvested more than once, but it really didn’t pass the team’s taste tests.”
On a lark, the researchers decided to turn their attention to Japan’s most cherished tree.
“Call it self-serving, but our lab’s hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties are legendary,” Yoshimoto said with a wink. “We thought it was a shame that we can only let our hair down once year.”
Though still in its initial stages, the promise of the project — code-named Sakura AF (short for aki (autumn) flower) — has excited both the tourism industry and Japan Inc.’s retail sector.
“This really is too good to be true,” said JTB spokesperson Mei Naito. “We’ve seen a steady increase in tourists during the cherry blossom-viewing season, so doubling that with more hanami tourism is an auspicious accomplishment. We couldn’t be happier.”
Beverage and confectionery makers are especially keen to release new lines of aki sakura drinks and sweets to complement the festivities.
Although the scale and location of the genetically modified trees has yet to be decided, Yoshimoto said there have been talks of starting with the Tohoku region to help revitalize the area’s flagging tourism numbers.
The idea, however, has not been welcomed by everyone.
Already a group has been formed to oppose the implementation of the project. Named Hanami no Dentou wo Zettai ni Mamoru Kai (the People Who Will do Anything to Protect the Tradition of Hanami), the group has threatened to cut down the biannual sakura trees if the plan ever comes to fruition.
“These are mutant species, a blight on the soul of Japan,” said group leader Kenji Yamato. “The thought of these symbols of ephemeral beauty being programmed to pop open at will makes my blood boil. It’s a perversion of this nation’s unique four seasons. Next thing you know, they’ll be making them bloom rainbows.”
For more information on the Sakura AF project.