They blossom in the spring, sometime around March. They seem to have quite some symbolic significance to the Japanese. One of the associations is that they are fleeting - around only for a few weeks - and seem to symbolise spring.
The brevity of their blooming tends to indicate the Buddhist idea of evanescence. Furthermore the fact that the blossoms fall (or are blown) from the trees at the height of their beauty was adopted as a samurai ideal during the peaceful Tokugawa reign, when samurai were devoid of martial activity and had to create an ideology for their moral superiority. The sakura came to represent the willingness of the samurai to give up his life at any instant.
It seems (from AlexChurchill's observations of MiltonRoad) that in Cambridge, the SeasonOfTheSakura? lasts from about Feb 28th to April 6th. The beautiful pink and white petals start getting hidden by the red leaves on the older sakura trees around March 21st, although the sakura are still be in bloom on the younger ones for another couple of weeks. But by April 7th, there are none left on the trees, although the soft white and pink petals will stay on the grass for a few days more.
There seems to be a common legend or theme about human bodies being buried underneath sakura trees. AlexChurchill has come across it in at least four different places, anyway - all Japanese, of course. Does anyone know anything of what's behind this? I asked Yoshie Yokoyama (she and her husband are working in Cambridge, vaguely with BartowWylie?) about the Sakura phenomenon. She said, think roses to the Westerner. Does this help? --MikeJeggo
I don't think there is really a Western parallel, but the closest thing to it is probably football. Roses - well, most Westerners would agree they're pretty, but how many make an annual trip to a rose garden to get away from it all?
Where in Cambridge are there pretty Sakura-type trees?
MiltonRoad has already been noted. MikeJeggo seems to remember from previous year that two other places with plenty are out the front of SelwynCollege, and beside the roundabout at AddenbrookesHospital. Are there really as many female anime characters called Sakura as it seems? Seems fairly common... --FR
Not just female ones, worryingly. Monks named 'Cherry' are pretty common too. --Vitenka