• Kyodo

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Cherry blossoms are usually a symbol of spring, but a group in the Tohoku region has been studying ways to delay the blooms by several months to showcase the flowers at the opening ceremonies of next summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Based in Murayama, Yamagata Prefecture, the group has been utilizing a snow-filled storage facility to adjust when the local Keio-zakura variety blooms.

They launched the project in 2017 with the goal of displaying the blossoms at the Tokyo Games and have improved their technique in the years since.

Since the Keio-zakura variety usually blooms early and is enjoyed over the winter, the members had to overcome several challenges to get the iconic pink flowers to blossom in July and August, the hottest months of the year.

“It’s not so difficult to have the flowers bloom early, but to keep them from blooming until the summertime was difficult because we did not have any experience or data,” said a Murayama city official participating in the project.

Around February, the group cuts branches with buds from cherry blossom trees and buries them in the snow at the storage facility. Unlike preserving the branches in a refrigerator, storing them in snow keeps them humid and prevents the buds from drying out and dying.

Keio-zakura cherry branches are taken out from the snow in Murayama, Yamagata Prefecture. | MURAYAMA CITY / KYODO
Keio-zakura cherry branches are taken out from the snow in Murayama, Yamagata Prefecture. | MURAYAMA CITY / KYODO

After the branches are removed from the snow in the summer, it takes about three weeks for the blossoms to appear.

Although it was difficult for the group to give the flowers a light pink color due to challenges with adjusting the humidity level, among other obstacles, the members have made significant improvements.

The group gave bouquets of Keio-zakura blossoms to members of Bulgaria’s rhythmic gymnastics team during their visits to Murayama in June 2018 and July 2019. The city has been designated as the host town for athletes from the European country.

This year, the flowers were displayed at Murayama Station in July and at the prefectural assembly building in the city of Yamagata in September.

However, another obstacle remains if the blossoms are to be displayed at next year’s games: approval from organizers.

The group has been sending the flowers to the organizing committee of the Summer Games in a bid to promote them, but it has yet to receive a response.

“The people in the prefecture have high expectations but feel no pressure,” said Shigeru Adachi, 69, a leader of the group. “We just need to have fun while we work on this. It’s a great dream.”

Keio-zakura cherry blossoms are exhibited in Yamagata on Sept. 24. | KYODO
Keio-zakura cherry blossoms are exhibited in Yamagata on Sept. 24. | KYODO

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