Sakura spat aside, enjoy the flowers

Sakura spat aside, enjoy the flowers

China has stepped into the year-long "sakura" fray, fuelling the controversy in which South Korea has claimed the flower originated from its soil, making many faces in Japan crimson.

The Japanese were certainly equally irked and found no reason to be thankful when He Zongru, executive chairman of the China Association of Cherry Blossoms, said on Sunday: "Forget about the Koreans, the flower had gone from China to Japan more than a thousand years ago."

Sakura, the Japanese name for cherry blossoms, has been widely admired by the Japanese as one of their aesthetic symbols since as far back as the 8th century.

But they have never been certain where the flower actually came from, and many seem to have preferred evidence pointing to North America and Europe if native soil is ruled out.

"We are not fighting a war of words with South Korea and Japan, just making it clear that much historical literature supports the fact that China is where cherry blossoms were first cultivated," China's Southern Metropolitan Daily quoted Mr He as saying at a news conference in Guangzhou.

The cherry blossom originated in China's Himalayan region and found its way to Japan during the Tang Dynasty (907-618BC), according to Mr He, who cited an ancient Japanese record.

"As Chinese, we have the duty to let more people know its true history," said the businessman who owns a sprawling cherry blossom nursery in Guangzhou and claims to have studied the flower for more than two decades.

"In a word, the cherry blossom originated in China, thrived in Japan and has nothing to do with Korea."

Chinese experts have long suggested that migratory birds introduced the flower to Japan.

South Korean's Dong-a Daily was quick to note that China has entered the ring, saying the controversy is getting complicated.

South Korea's claim hotted up early last year, when its media asserted that the someiyoshino variety of cherry blossoms, popularly known as Japanese cherry, originated from a species called oshimazakura on its Jeju island.

As the someiyoshino's flowers, which are nearly purely white with a tinge of pink, bloom and usually fall within a week before the leaves come out, the Japanese cherish them as a symbol of the intensity and ephemerality of life.

The variety is known to have been born in 19th-century Japan by cross-pollinating oshimazakura and edohigan cherry trees.

Many Japanese have tried to dispel South Korea's "erroneous" belief, with some suggesting that past South Korean governments had coined the Jeju theory in order to stop people hateful of vestiges of Japanese colonialism from cutting down local cherry trees.

The Korean peninsula was dominated by Japan in the first half of the 20th century.

But the Chinese seem less perturbed, as South Koreans have already been famous for making claims on Chinese cultural symbols ranging from the dumpling festival to the nationality of Confucius.

Meanwhile, sakura season has arrived in Japan.

The flowers are expected to blanket large swathes of the country for the next few weeks.

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