• People take pictures of illuminated cherry trees in full bloom at the Chidorigafuchi moat in Tokyo, March 31, 2015.

People take pictures of illuminated cherry trees in full bloom at the Chidorigafuchi moat in Tokyo, March 31, 2015. (Photo : REUTERS)

As the appearance of white and pink flowers announces spring and the cherry blossom season, an old debate about the origin of this widely renowned plant is threatening to create tension between the East Asian neighbors.

Several recent reports from South Korea have claimed that the celebrated cherry blossom trees in Japan originated from the Jeju Island in South Korea. According to Rocket News, South Korean experts claim that the Yoshino cherry (also known as "somei Yoshino") was created by crossbreeding the King cherry (which is allegedly indigenous to South Korea).

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But Teikyo University's Dr. Takeshi Kinoshita has argued to the contrary. According to him, Japan's Yoshino cherry was created by interbreeding species of the Oshima Cherry and Edohigan Cherry trees. Both of these cherry species are found in Japan, but not in South Korea, Dr. Kinoshita explains.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the China Association of Cherry Blossom, He Zongru, has denounced claims that cherry blossoms originated in South Korea or Japan; instead, he says they came from China.

"We are not fighting a war of words with South Korea and Japan," he explained."[We're] just making it clear that much historical literature supports the fact that China is where cherry blossoms were first cultivated. As Chinese, we have the duty to let more people to know its true history."

Zongru goes on to read from a Japanese monograph which said that cherry blossom originated in the Himalayan Mountains in China and it did not find its way into Japan until the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Cherry blossoms were reportedly cultivated in royal gardens in China during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) and Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 220) more than 2,000 years ago.

"In a word, the cherry blossom originated in China, thrived in Japan, and has nothing to do with Korea," Zongru added.

It is unclear exactly when or how cherry blossom spread to Japan; nonetheless, the traditions associated with this colorful tree are more linked to Japan than they are to China. Most important buildings in Japan have cherry blossom trees outside them and people travel from across the world to Japan during the cherry blossom season.

This year, the number of people looking to travel to Japan to witness the cherry blossom season is twice the size of last year. The Japanese Consulate in Shanghai has reportedly issued a record 146,000 visas in the month of March alone.