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The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan's Cherry Blossoms

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  421 ratings  ·  74 reviews
The remarkable 1,200-year history of the Japanese cherry blossom tree--and how it was saved from extinction by an English gardener.

Collingwood "Cherry" Ingram first fell in love with the sakura, or cherry tree, when he visited Japan on his honeymoon in 1907. So taken with the plant, he brought back hundreds of cuttings with him to England, where he created a garden of cher
Hardcover, 380 pages
Published March 19th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Mar 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week:
Collingwood Ingram, known as 'Cherry' after his defining life's work, was born in 1880 and lived to a hundred years old, witnessing a fraught century of conflict and change.

Ingram's interest was piqued by visits to Japan in 1902 and 1907, and further when he moved to The Grange in Benenden, Kent in 1919 and discovered two magnificent cherry trees in the neglected garden of his new family home. They reminded him of his Japanese trips and he fell in love with ch
Paul Lockman
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars rounded up. Collingwood “Cherry” Ingram was an Englishman who developed a passion, indeed an obsession, with the various types of cherry blossom trees. He originally started as an ornithologist but became disenchanted with the profession and took to horticulture big time and ended up one of the world’s foremost experts on flowering cherry blossom trees. According to the book, one of his main claims to fame was being instrumental in reintroducing to Japan some of the more obscure or rar ...more

How did growing more than one variety of flowering cherry tree become a treasonable offense?

From The Spectator's review:
Between 1639 and 1853, seeds and scions of flowering cherry trees travelled across Japan to Edo (present-day Tokyo). Each came from the most beautiful specimens of varieties of tree from the different principalities of Japan. From mountainous regions came the light pink yama-zakura; from the chilly climates of Hokkaido and northern Honshu came the crimson Ohyama-zakura; Mame-z
Mar 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Laura
Shelves: bbc, audiobooks, 2019
20 MAR 2019 - a lunchtime listen-to recommendation through Laura. Many thanks.

Listen here -

11 APR 2019 - finished my listening today over lunch hour. Very enjoyable.
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: birds
I sure enjoyed the first half of this immensely but then it got into the war which was too sad and depressing. I learned some things I had never heard before and had to quit reading it for a bit. I got back into the book when she went back to telling about cherry trees and three of the oldest, one of which is 1,500 years old! It is almost as old as a bristle cone pine. I greatly admire Ingram and it was so fun reading about him.

I recommend this for everyone but especially those who love nature
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sakura, as the decorative flowering cherry trees are called in Japan, are widely distributed across the world.

This is the charming tale of one man's captivation of the glorious cherry tree and how he became one of the world's foremost experts on the breed. Namely, Collingwood Ingram, a British gentleman who experienced an unconventional youth and education. He adored birds (the family had albino birds that ate at the table helping themselves to morsels from every plate) but was smitten by Japan
Ryan Bell
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this book very engaging and informative. I think it did a great job of introducing many of the cherry varieties and Mr. Ingrams passion for them without being too technical or verbose. I very much enjoyed learning of the many varieties of cherries as much as the history of their cultivation and their symbolic meaning for Japan and the world.

I appreciated the shorter, bite sized chapters and the many photographs and illustrations. I felt they helped me grasp the aesthetics that Ingram an
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As an avid gardener, ok obsessive, who had to seek out flowering cherry trees within a hundred mile radius I loved this book! But, this book is far more than gardening, it’s Japanese history, and sadly my beloved cherry trees are forever linked to the fleeting lives of youth in war. Such a contrast from beauty to death, love books that teach me new things, but not sure I like what I learned ...
Laura Harrison
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely brilliant, fascinating book.

Description: Collingwood Ingram, known as 'Cherry' after his defining life's work, was born in 1880 and lived to a hundred years old, witnessing a fraught century of conflict and change.

Ingram's interest was piqued by visits to Japan in 1902 and 1907, and further when he moved to The Grange in Benenden, Kent in 1919 and discovered two magnificent cherry trees in the neglected garden of his new family home. They reminded him of his Japanese trips and he
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, to-buy
The Sakura Obsession tells the story of Collingwood "Cherry" Ingram, an avid bird watcher and nature lover. In his youth, he visited Japan and fell in love with the cherry blossom trees of the country and their precious symbolism to its people. A time progressed, he dedicated his later years to bring about each individual species to Britain and cultivating the beloved tree. Upon his return to Japan following the war, he had hoped to find missing species for his collection. Instead, he found that ...more
Aug 28, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting enough history book about cherry blossoms, centered around Collingwood Ingram’s love of the trees.

I was intrigued to read a book about a western influence in Japan from the perspective of a Japanese writer. Abe delivered ample, well-researched history but could have used a heavier editing hand. The facts go quite far into the weeds at times, and I personally dislike non-fiction that is loose with timelines (she’s hardly the worst offender, but she would certainly jump when trying
Saturday's Child
This book was such a pleasure to read. Not only did I discover a fascinating person (and his family), I leant about cherry trees and their history. I was also able to reminisce about travels in Japan and enjoying hanami during the cherry blossom season.
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Sakura Obsession is book for sore eyes and minds — is that a thing? After finishing this book, there are so many topics I wish to explore further: Japanese history, Japanese poetry, cherry blossoms in general (including how to grow and where to find them), and the lives of the many figures who have perpetuated the existence and cultural significance of cherry blossoms over centuries. I’m so grateful the author did take on the task of re-creating this book for English language readers. Her ap ...more
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: places
This book is so beautiful and complete and easy to read.

The book is about how one eccentric British man helped save several types Japanese cherry trees from extinction during the first half of the 20th century. While Naoko Abe tells the story of Collingwood Ingram's amazing life and his work, she also goes into the cultural and historical importance of the cherry in Japan. She addresses the events during the Meiji restoration that led to the decline all but one species of cherries, specially bet
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've loved Cherry Blossoms since I was a child, the pinks against the stark brown of the wood, the bright blue sky, and the green grass just has a beauty unto its own. This story piqued my interest the moment I had seen it and I am so glad I had read it. Definitely a read for those who like sakura's or even looking for something completely different to read.
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting historically and anthropologically. It’s a bit harsh on the Japanese in my opinion. It really goes into a LOT of detail about the different varieties of “Sakura”, scientific names etc, which was not of much interest to me. I did however, enjoy the writing style and general information.
Iryna Paprotska
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
The Sakura Obsession by Naoko Abe is a history of the Japanese cherry blossom tree and the man who obsessively studied and cultivated them, Collingwood Ingram.

I think it is a very special kind of book. This is all in one: a personal story, a history lesson, a culture overview and a complicated and compelling life of pure dedication. I believe that the author made a tremendous job building a high-level picture of the world. World history and aspects of different times, the impact of small and big
Anne Walters custer
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is a fascinating topic for a book and taught me about a cross-cultural horticultural history that I knew little about. However the story gets a bit too into the weeds during the middle section, making it more interesting for the specialist than the general reader. The most fascinating parts centered on World War II and the Japanese "cherry tree ideology" and broader historical context. Overall, this would have made a perfect New Yorker-style article, but was a bit too much for 300 pages of ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a plant lover and one who enjoys walking through our local gardens when the cherry blossoms are out it was nice to hear about this horticulturalist who did so much to preserve the varieties for future generations.
May 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Surprisingly mediocre, in my opinion. The newspapers were ecstatic about this work in the Netherlands. But although Abe's piece of history is interesting, I found that the structure of this book missed its mark.

She balances a narrative approach about Ingram's life, with a broader historical picture of Japan. Whereas the second succeeds in my opinion, Ingram fails to figure as the 'hero' that Abe seems to want to make out of him. I think her book would have been more convincing if she had either
May 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
It was cherry blossom season not too long ago so I was excited to learn more about this. Other than the beautiful pictures and that they tend to be associated with Japan (but actually have a wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere), I was intrigued to learn more.

Abe takes the reader through a long history of the cherry blossom and of Collingwood Ingram, who helped save cherry blossoms. Plus the symbolism and history of cherry blossoms, the history, its associations with Japan and Japanese p
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely a great read especially if one is interested in the world of horticulture and the history of the beautiful cherry blossom trees and their history and propagation. The descriptions of these magnificent trees is so well written, along with the stories behind Collingwood Ingram and Seisaku Funatsu and other Japanese horticulturists , the wars , the devastation in both countries, the use of the cherry blossom as a war and peace symbol, the devastation of war to all of the people involved ...more
Laura Hoffman Brauman
I enjoy quirky histories that dive into a subject I don't know much about and teach me something new. The Sakura Obsession digs deep into the life of Collingwood Ingram, a British man who fell in love with the cherry trees in Japan during visits in 1902 and 1907 and devoted much of his life to preserving the many varieties on his British estate. When some of those varieties were disappearing from Japan in the 1920's, he repatriated some of them back to the country in order to support the variety ...more
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an extremely interesting book, maybe more interesting than it seems by the description. The author not only discusses the history of Collingwood Ingram, the self-taught ornithologist and botanist who made it his goal to preserve the at-risk species of cherry blossoms of Japan, but she also gives a basic history of Japanese culture from first European contact through the present day, demonstrating how cherry blossoms have influenced Japan. It's part biography, part national history, part ...more
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a timely read with New England’s cherry trees and blossoms puffing up and coating the parks in pale and pink hues. In spite of the book’s thickness it is a short read, and largely autobiographical, following a rarified Englishman who had the patience (and money) to borrow cultivars of cherry trees from Japan before wartime frenzy stripped the island of the exotic varietals. And then he brought them back. Abe covers some simple history for context, but the book shines when she returns to ...more
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I expected this book to be lighthearted and a distraction from the more serious non-fiction I've been reading. It is after all about flowers and a rich Englishman who bred lots of kinds of flowers. It was described as "charming"!
And it is all those things, and it is charming but reading this as an American in 2020 I found this book a deeply moving story of people who grew up under in a suffocating, fascist culture that didn't value their lives. The story of the restoration of the diversity of t
Peter Blok
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Its well written, here and there a bit dry but that makes it even more convincing. The most interesting aspect of the book is that it is a perfect example of the fact that culture is man made. The romantic idea of the blossoming cherry trees in Japan existed yet (on a limited scale) but was brutaly exploited. During the Pacific war the Japanese kamikaze pilots were told the romantic myth that their lives lives were like a cherry tree blossom: they grow, there are beautiful at the end and then th ...more
Kenneth Wong
May 19, 2020 rated it liked it
The charming story of Collingwood Ingram, an English eccentric who had a defining passion for cherry blossoms. Ingram fell in love with Japan’s beloved sakura and brought many cuttings back from Japan and transplanted them in his garden. Years later, he was able to repatriate many extinct in Japan varieties back to their land of origin. As much a story of a century of change and conflict as of one man’s remarkable passion. Well worth the read in this version translated by the author from its ori ...more
Audio-book: Audio quality;Excellent, Narration:Excellent.
An intriguing read which not only tells the story of Collingwood Ingram's love with the cherry blossoms which motivated him to introduce various variety to his homeland and later re-introducing them to the land of their origin, but also the story of Kamikaze's pilots ideology and Japanese military.
Naoko Abe doesn't shy away from telling about the bad and the ugly alongside the good, and this is exactly was makes this book so alluring.
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Naoko Abe is a Japanese journalist and non-fiction writer. She was the first female political writer to cover the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry and the defence ministry at Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers. Since moving to London with her British husband and their two boys in 2001, she has worked as a freelance writer and has published five books in Japanese. Her ...more

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