Sakura (Traditional Japanese Folk Song)

Arranged by Michael Story. (Miami, FL: Belwin Mills, 2002).





Essential Questions & Information about Sakura



1.) What cultural and historical facts do we know about the song? 


SAKURA is a well-known, traditional Japanese folk song. It is also a popular children’s song. This old Japanese song was originally known as Saita Sakura. Sakura, which translates to “Cherry Blossom,” is about the Japanese cherry tree. The cherry tree represents beauty, peace and joy in the Japanese culture. But more importantly, the blooming of the cherry tree signifies the arrival of spring and therefore is associated with renewal and rebirth. The song refers to “hanami,” or blossom viewing. “Hanami” is an old tradition in Japan and a favorite pastime of the Japanese people during the spring.  There are many versions of the lyrics in the song, but the lyrics all tell the same story. They describe the beauty of the flowering cherry blossoms.





Japanese: English Translation:
Sakura sakura Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Noyama mo sato mo Blanketing the countryside,
Miwatasu kagiri As far as you can see.
Kasumi ka kumo ka Is it a mist, or clouds?
Asahi ni niou Fragrant in the morning sun.
Sakura sakura Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Hana zakari Flowers in full bloom.
Sakura sakura Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Yayoi no sora wa Across the Spring sky,
Miwatasu kagiri As far as you can see.
Kasumi ka kumo ka Is it a mist, or clouds?
Nioi zo izuru Fragrant in the air.
Izaya izaya Come now, come,
Mini yu kan Let's look, at last!



What is the song like when sounded by traditional instruments/voices?


This song is traditionally performed on the koto. The koto is a long instrument with 13 strings and is played with plectrums attached to the thumb, first and middle fingers of the right hand. The tune Sakura is one of the first that a beginning koto player learns.


How is the song taught traditionally?


Sakura is traditionally taught by ear to beginning koto players. However, there are many notated versions of Sakura available today.


How does the song live today for the people of and from that culture?

How does Sakura mean for people who live in Japan today?



People in Japan view Sakura as a new beginning.  Sakura represents the cherry blossom, which appears every year during the spring season.  Spring also represents new beginnings, as well as rebirth.  The cherry blossom flowers only live for one week, letting the people of Japan know that life is not only beautiful, but it is also brief.  In Japan, spring is when school ends for the year.  Many students graduate, creating a new beginning for their own lives.


In 1912, the Japanese gave the United States 3,000 sakura (cherry) trees.  This was in hope of a growing, new friendship between the two countries.  These trees line the shore in Washington D.C. and are a large part of the celebration in the United States.  Every year, there is a street festival called Sakura Matsuri held every year in downtown Washington D.C.  People who are from Japan can come and celebrate spring, even though they are not in Japan.   


How we can play the song in a way that illustrates what we’ve learned about how a person can reflect and respect a song and the people who own it and think it important?


A Lesson Plan for the Japanese Song "Sakura" [Cherry Tree]

as taken from:<>.


Standards addressed:



Activity I : Listening Challenge

Exploring the Cultural Context of "Sakura"

In Shinko Kondo's experience, when American children first listen to "Sakura" most of them seem to think that it is a Halloween song because it uses an unusual mode with minor intervals. These types of sounds are frequently used in America to represent something sad or scary. The Japanese image of this song is beautiful, peaceful, and joyful. Sakura is the Japanese flowering cherry tree. The song refers to hanami, blossom viewing, a centuries-old tradition in Japan. Hanami is a favorite pastime in Japan during the spring.

At these moments, while students experience the music in a meaningful way, the connections that students make are truly constructed by prior experience in social cultural context and the history we live. Kondo has discovered that, after introducing the cultural background of "Sakura" to students and showing some pictures of the scene of celebrating the cherry blooms, they have said, "Oh yes, it's like Japanese music." They have entered the new world of sound, shifting and reconstructing their musical understanding in their own minds.This is a very touching moment for a teacher, and perhaps for the students as well.


Activity 2: Analyze the Scale Structure.


Activity 3: Creating


Print Sources


Blair, Deborah, and Shinko Kondo. "Bridging Musical Understanding Through Multicultural Musics." Music Educators Journal 94 (2008): 50-55.


Website Sources



Cherry Blossom Map



Cherry Tree (Sakura) Pictures



Audio Sources 


Harp & Flute



MP3: Sakura Variations


MP3 download



Video Sources



Flute, violin, cello, keyboard:


Played on kokyu “kokyu is a shamisen like instrument. it is like violin, but is different from violin in that kokyus bow is made loose, and is tightened with finger while playing.” 


Children’s Choir


Sakura: Variations on Classical Guitar



Sources Used





Kyotoview Japan Travel

World Cultural Forum


Performances of Arirang by Students in School, Youth, and Honor Orchestras

"Variations on "Sakura" on Art of the Koto: The Music of Japan Played by Kimia Eto, Elektra Records CD 70234