Cherry Blossoms And Design In 2011

Posted By Nathan Hoernig


What’s in this for you?

This article will look at the influence of nature on design around Japan. Nature, meaning sakura (or cherry blossoms).

If you’re interested in how the soft, beautiful and ephemeral beauty of the sakura affects design in Japan, this post should be an interesting read. You’ll also learn a bit about how the Japanese celebrate this amazing season and its relevance within the culture.

Who cares about sakura?

In a word (and in Japan): everyone!

The sakura is generally a knotty and loathsome-looking tree (depending on the type) found all over Japan. For 50 weeks of the year, it’s a plain old unexciting standard deciduous: nothing of consequence at first glance. However, as the weather warms and the world around us gets ready to green again, the sakura tree reveals her true beauty to finally let us know that spring has arrived.

For one week (and not usually much more), the trees’ branches explode with thousands of tiny white or slightly pink-colored blossoms. What two weeks early was nothing more than a seemingly depressed attempt at life in the chill March air, has exploded into a cumulus-like cloud of delicate brilliance amongst a world of gray. It’s a season in which it feels like happiness has finally come out from behind its wintery veil to warm the world again.

With the sakura, come a light-heartedness and festive atmosphere here in Japan. People congregate in parks, along rivers and anywhere that the trees exist to be merry and welcome spring. Some would argue that this is just a reason to drink beer—I’m hard-pressed to say otherwise (more on that later).

Unfortunately, after a week or so, those delicate petals begin to fall (a depressing yet subsequently beautiful sight) and in their stead, bright green leaves begin to wiggle their way into the world.

This fleeting beauty is considered one of the most stunning displays of nature, to the Japanese (and most everyone who’s seen it). Furthermore, as the primary religion here, Buddhism, often focuses on the temporary beauty of the world and the magnificence of nature, this occasion is even more revered.

This philosophy is called Mono no Aware (物の哀れ) and Wikipedia refers to it as:

“…the awareness of impermanence or the transience of things, and a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing.”

Sakura + Design = ???

Just as short-lived as the cherry blossoms are, companies have an equally limited time to capitalize on the season in order to influence and take advantage of all those cheerful full-walleted customers!

Here and you thought this whole article was going to be about the subtle beauty of nature. Alas, we’re brought crashing down to the capitalist world of the 21st century.

Don’t get too disheartened over it though! This season is about happiness, a fresh start and new opportunity. In carrying with this theme, Japanese designers/companies have no qualms attempting to recreate this exhilaration through bright and beautiful designs.

Let’s take a look:

Starbucks Coffee

starbucks sakura drink poster

Yep. They have those even in Japan in case you weren’t aware. They are extremely popular.

This is Starbucks’ sakura season offering. The Sakura Frappucino and the Sakura Latte.

If you’ve never tried the taste of sakura, it’s quite a unique flavor. It basically tastes a bit like a flower petal smells. Is it strange to say that it’s more of a scent-based flavor? The flavoring is usually very light and not fruity at all (as the name “cherry blossom” could imply). It’s a bit tough to explain so excuse my inadequacies in this area.

Anyway, every year, their styling is a bit different (as are their naming conventions) but the overall visual feel is the same. Light pinks, soft blues and the glorious feeling of spring.

We’re particularly fond of the flowing swoop of sakura petals and the reverse “c” framing the two drinks. The petals carry a delicate beauty to compliment the real flower-viewing experience. You’ve got to give the designer respect for capturing the fragility of the sakura through the design.

Beer (sort of)

japanese sakura beer cans

These little numbers are called Happoshu or Dai-san-biru (“Number 3” beer).

Essentially, these are a type of beer but because of the abnormally high tax on beer (any containing more than 25% alcohol from malted grain), Japanese beer manufacturers began creating these “hybrid” versions. At a cheaper price to consumers, these beers usually utilize the usual beer malts but also different grains (such as rice) to complete the balance. More often than not, they also contain a different type of alcohol.


That’s neither here nor there as we’re here to discuss design! Above are three different “beers” from Japan that are currently available throughout the country. Each utilize the sakura in their seasonal packaging. The three brands listed here are Suntory (the two on the left), Asahi (center) and Sapporo (far right with the star).

We’re partial to say that we’re most fond of the Suntory design because, upon close inspection the composition is well thought out. Unlike the other two beers, Suntory has imported other elements (the pagoda, a bird, etc.) aside from just the blossoms. Also, make note that the sakura are rendered in only two colors yet provide a sense of three-dimensionality. The lines and colors are neatly executed. Regarding color, the available contrast between the pink petals and the deep blue create an appealing visual color scheme. As the product (in eloquent English) begs, it really instills a desire to “enjoy rich taste in relaxing time”.

Oh how charming the Japanese are when they try to use English.

In connection with this haphazard pursuit of using English, Sapporo (right side) even goes as far as covering up the text on the can. This is either a thoughtless attempt at design or a testament to how the Japanese view English as an aesthetic element (as opposed to functional).


japanese sakura themed car advertisements

Sakura is truly marketed in every imaginable way. As if consumable products weren’t enough, they can also be used as a selling point in the automotive industry!

Above is an advertisement for…what?

On first glance you’d say that this company is obviously trying to offer up some kind of sale on their line of cars. The most natural way of doing this: by allowing you to visualize yourself cruising on a cool night, surrounded by beautiful pink blossoms and a gentle spring breeze gliding over your face.

While the experience they’re trying to elicit may be just that, it’s not the cars they want you to buy. Divert your eyes down the composition a bit and you’ll discover they’re actually trying to market the wheels to you.

Yep, those are Sakura-themed rims.

We agree that the cuteness is possibly enough to make certain people cringe, but that’s a very common marketing direction you see a lot of here in Japan. You know what, after having a moment to look it over, we don’t mind those silver ones. Heck, we like pink too…why not?

Again, (as we saw earlier with the happoshu) the romance of the night sakura is a force to be reckoned with. We’re a big fan of the detail in this design as well as its “Japanese-nous” (the castle and use of typography).


sakura themed wedding promotion

Finally, we show you a simple design from a photography studio, marketing towards the wedding industry.

This one, in keeping with the delicate spirit of the cherry blossom, definitely provides us a softer and lighter feminine taste to the sakura season. The color scheme is very simple, well-applied and agreeable to the eyes.

We’re reminded of the Starbucks design, shown above, in that it strikes the viewer with light, positive and happy emotions.

The sakura “stamp” featured here is probably the most commonly seen cherry blossom icon in Japanese design. It’s a simple icon (similar in style to a logo), easily recognizable and simple.

If you’re a designer and would like to get your paws on some cherry blossom brushes, head over to DeviantArt and check out the selection there. Don’t forget to double check the usage guidelines before using them though!

In Conclusion

It’s nice to see the different ways that Japanese designers can imagine to market their products or services. What’s most interesting to us is to see the difference between marketing to men (the automotive advertisement) versus appealing to women (the wedding and Starbucks advertisements).

In considering the target audience: Japanese men and women, how would you improve on any of these designs?

It’s also important to remember that while western countries would generally market beer to men, Japanese women are quite keen to drink beer and so marketing those products could be geared towards both sexes.

So there you have it, tons of ways for you to use sakura in your designs. As for us, we’re going to ponder how to do so while making sure those cans of sakura-nectar (that we looked over earlier) don’t go to waste.

Happy cherry blossom season and if you happen to have any sakura trees near you, why not have your own hanami (flower-viewing) picnic party with some friends?

Want More?

Get up-to-date on the Japanese market with our monthly newsletter.

Nearly done, one more thing