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The Sakura Obsession

The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan's Cherry Blossoms
By: Naoko Abe
Length: 8 hrs and 55 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The incredible - and improbable - story of how an English eccentric saved Japan’s beloved cherry blossoms from extinction.

Collingwood Ingram - known as “Cherry” for his defining passion - was born in 1880 and lived until he was a hundred, witnessing a fraught century of conflict and change. Visiting Japan in 1902 and again in 1907, he fell in love with the country’s distinctive cherry blossoms, or sakura, and brought back hundreds of cuttings with him to England, where he created a garden of cherry varieties. 

On a 1926 trip to Japan to search for new specimens, Ingram was shocked to find a dramatic decline in local cherry diversity. A cloned variety was taking over the landscape and becoming the symbol of Japan’s expansionist ambitions, while the rare and spectacular Taihaku, or “Great White Cherry”, had disappeared entirely. 

But thousands of miles away, at Ingram’s country estate, the Taihaku still prospered. After returning to Britain, the amateur botanist buried a living cutting from his own collection into a potato and repatriated it to Japan via the Trans-Siberian Express. Over the decades that followed, Ingram became one of the world’s leading cherry experts and shared the joy of sakura both nationally and internationally, sending more than a hundred varieties of cherry tree to new homes around the globe, from Auckland, New Zealand to Washington, DC. 

As much a history of the cherry blossom in Japan as it is the story of one remarkable man, The Sakura Obsession follows the flower from its significance as a symbol of the imperial court, through the dark days of the Second World War, and up to the present-day worldwide fascination with this iconic blossom.

©2019 Naoko Abe (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Abe tells the remarkable tale of how this once-ubiquitous tree was on the verge of extinction in the 1920s. Its salvation came in the form of a member of the British gentry, one Collingwood Ingram, whose cherry-tree devotion led to the creation of a massive arboretum in Britain and an advocacy of cherry-tree culture that spread throughout the world. Combining vast historical research, perceptive cultural interpretation, and a gift for keen, biographical storytelling, Abe’s study of one man’s passion for a singular plant species celebrates the beneficial impact such enthusiasts can have on the world at large.” (Booklist)

"The story of the connection that linked one man, one flower, and two countries. Lovers of the outdoors, especially gardeners, will find much to enjoy in Japanese journalist Abe’s first English-language book, which won the Nihon Essayist Club Award in 2016. The author engagingly chronicles the travels and plant-collecting adventures of Collingwood Ingram.... Interspersed throughout the book are pieces of Japan’s history over the last 2,000 years, and Abe provides sufficient detail to edify but never to bore. The author clearly shows the national importance of the cherry tree and how its perception changed with Westernization.... This charming book shows how indebted the world is to Ingram.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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