Climate change has altered Japan’s cherry blossoms blooming schedule

The cherry blossoms (sakura) have been blooming earlier. The cultural tradition involving the cherry blossoms might be threatened. Scientists say that global warming is the cause of this early bloom. Unfortunately, this early bloom has problematic ecological and economic consequences.

Climate change has altered Japan’s cherry blossoms blooming schedule
Blooming Sakura in Kyoto, by Pavlo Klein


Dara Masita

Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

The renowned Japanese cherry blossoms (also known as sakura) bloom to signify that spring has arrived. The flowers normally bloom at the end of March to the beginning of April. Besides as an indicator to signify the changing seasons, the blooming of the sakura is historical and cultural to the people of Japan. Farmers in ancient Japan saw the blooming sakura as a sign to start planting rice. The sakura blooms and falls away quickly, symbolising hope and a new life, as well as the beauty and fleetingness of life. During this period, people will come together under the trees and partake in hanami (translates to flower blooming) where the people will have picnics and socialize.

However, climate change is threatening this millennia-old Japanese tradition. As the winters get warmer, the sakura are blooming faster than scheduled. From 1961 to 1990, they bloomed on average on March 29. Meanwhile, from 1991 to 2020, the average blooming period moved forward to March 24. Last year, the sakura bloomed on March 14. The year 2023 was especially odd because the sakura in Tokyo were the first ones to bloom. Typically, the cherry blossoms in the southern part of the country are among the first to bloom. This year’s first bloom was recorded on March 17.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency, represented by Daisuke Sasano, confirmed that the early bloom is caused by global warming. The cherry blossoms bloomed in Tokyo first because of the urban heat island effect, where cities contain more heat due to the heavily urban landscape and increased Tokyo’s temperature by 3˚C. 

Ecologically speaking, the early bloom will threaten the survival of the cherry blossom trees as plants become mismatched with their pollinators. As well as being damaged from cold snap vulnerability. In the economic sense, the alteration of the blooming date will greatly impact Japan’s tourism industry. A study has shown that in 2023, the blossoms have brought in ¥616 billion ($4.1 billion) to the country. With the fluctuating dates and shorter bloom times, it will affect the economies of cities that capitalise on the flowers.

With increasing greenhouse gas emissions and temperature, the urban heat islands, at this rate, Japan may see the cherry blossom bloom in February. With centuries-old traditions in jeopardy, Japan may need to develop a more robust climate action plan.

Sources and further reading:

Bryan Walsh, ‘Japan’s cherry blossoms are a marker of natural time — and how climate change is altering it’ (Vox, 2024) <> accessed 28 March 2024.

Shiko Oda et al, ‘Cherry Trees From Japan to Washington D.C. Are Blooming Earlier Due to Climate Change’ (Time, 2024) <> accessed 28 March 2024.

Michael Fitzpatrick, ‘How climate change is thwarting travellers' cherry blossom plans’ (BBC, 2024) <> accessed 28 March 2024.

Mariah Bourne, ‘What is Hanami? The Significance of Sakura in Japanese Tradition’ (Mizuba Tea Co., 2023) <> accessed 28 March 2024.

Ayurella Horn-Muller, ‘Did you enjoy the cherry blossoms' early peak bloom? It was a warning sign.’ (National Geographic, 2024) <,forward%20by%20roughly%2011%20days.> accessed 28 March 2024.