Cherry blossoms in Japan’s capital have begun blooming, making this year’s flowering the earliest since records began in 1953, in a trend driven in part by global warming.
The world famous sakura—which means cherry blossom—was spotted in Tokyo 10 days earlier than average, according to the country’s weather agency. This tied 2020 and 2021 for the earliest start dates on record.
Earlier peak blooms in Japan have coincided with rising temperatures, an outcome partially attributed to climate change, scientists have found.
In 2021, the historic city of Kyoto saw cherry blossoms peak on March 26, the earliest in more than 1,200 years. The average flowering date is now April 4, about two weeks earlier than it used to be in 1850. The average temperature of Kyoto has also risen about 3 degrees Celsius during this period.
Using data from Kyoto’s sakura records, scientists from the United Kingdom’s national weather service and Osaka Metropolitan University found that greenhouse gas emissions and urban warming have pushed forward the full-flowering dates of sakura by 11 days.
If global temperature trends continue, extremely early flowering dates could happen more regularly—at least once a century, the scientists found in their peer-reviewed study, published in 2022 in Environmental Research Letters.
According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, Tokyo’s early bloom can also be attributed to warm wind blowing from the south. The capital had four days of unseasonably warm weather between March 8 and 11, when temperatures exceeded 20 degrees Celsius, national broadcaster NHK reported.
Cherry blossoms have also been flowering earlier than usual in the cities of Sendai, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.
Cherry blossom flowerings are culturally significant in Japan, where festivals are held to coincide with the blooms. Hanami, or flower viewing, is also a popular event, and is celebrated by having picnics under the pink flowers. Sakura are fleeting however, and are only in full bloom about one week after they first start to flower.
Outside Japan, cities including Washington have also reported earlier than usual blooming. A warming climate caused by human activity has advanced peak bloom by about five days since the 1920s in the city, according to the Washington Post.