US Reporter

Japan’s cherry blossoms bloom earlier, experts say a sign of climate crisis

Photo: Japan Forward

Japan’s cherry blossom is a sight to behold, enchanting thousands of locals and tourists every spring with its white and pink bloom. For a thousand years, the blooms have brought blessings and prosperity to the country of Japan. However, this year the flowers bloomed earlier than expected, and scientists said this would continue for the following years.

Human-induced climate change has pushed the blooming of the sakura plants earlier than usual. According to the researchers from the Met Office in the UK and experts from the Osaka Metropolitan University of Japan, the climate crisis and the localized warmer temperatures made the “peak bloom” of the flowers happen 11 days earlier.

Last year, Kyoto recorded the earliest flowering date in 1,200 years when the cherry blossoms made the full bloom on March 26 – days earlier than this year’s April 1 peak.

In a finding sent to the journal Environmental Research Letters on May 20, scientists predict that the early flowering dates will become more common. The phenomenon is congruent with the rise in temperatures in the country.

According to the findings, average temperatures in Kyoto rose in March. This means that the surrounding plants and animals will respond to the change.

What caused warmer temperatures

One major factor that contributes to extreme heat is urbanization. Increased urbanization allows for the creation of more buildings and roads which absorb more heat than the natural landscape – this is called the heat island effect.

Dr. Nikos Christidis, lead author and climate scientist at the Met Office, said, “Our research shows that not only have human-induced climate change and urban warming already impacted the flowering dates of cherry blossom in Kyoto, but that extremely early flowering dates, as in 2021, are now estimated to be 15 times more likely and are expected to occur at least once a century.”

Scientists said that apart from urbanization, the biggest factor leading to warmer temperatures is the burning of fossil fuels. Studies discovered that if the activities persist, the schedule of the peak blooms of cherry blossoms could be pushed earlier, even a week ahead.

What it means to the economy and ecosystem

Cherry blooms pushed back earlier will affect the economy since schedules will be pushed back earlier, and businesses have to shift their fiscal schedules in accordance with the schedule of the blooms – which have now become unpredictable.

“Spring cherry blossom flowering is a culturally significant event in Japan.”

Yasuyuki Aono, Osaka Metropolitan University

Aono further explained that it is important for local businesses to know and time the date of blooming as it is the highlight of the local economy – with many international and local tourists flocking to Osaka just for the event.

Hanami, Japanese for “flower viewing,” is a popular activity during the cherry blossom festival where tourists dine and have picnics under the sakura trees. It is then a good time for businesses to pitch their products and services.

On another note, warmer temperatures will adversely affect the surrounding ecosystem. Experts say that it will affect the life cycles of plants and animals – the blooms of the cherry blossoms as an obvious example.

Growth and overall health of economically valuable crops and animals will also be disrupted, leading to challenges in food security and livelihood.

Opinions expressed by US Reporter contributors are their own.