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Japanese Cherry Blossoms, Circa 1890

Here in the U.S., we've had the pleasure of cherry blossom season since about 1910, when Japan gave a gift of about 2,000 trees — most of which were planted in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

It's now peak flowering season, and all the cameras are out to capture one of the most photogenic springtime phenomena.

In Japan, though, cherry blossom trees have been appearing in art for about as long as art has existed. And with the advent of photography, the tradition continued. Here are a few early, hand-tinted photographs of sakura — or "cherry blossom" in Japanese — around Japan, circa 1890. (Some of the photographs have information about where they were taken, but some have very little information included.)

In Japanese, there's even a word for the ritual of simply enjoying the flowers. Well, two, actually: Hanami is the custom of viewing them by day. At night it's called yozakura. If you're lucky enough to have cherry blossoms nearby, pack a picnic and enjoy the fleeting beauty.

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Claire O'Neill