|Japanese Cherry Blossoms
Big deal, I thought. Cherry Blossoms. We have those in America.
I was wrong.
In Japan, cherry blossoms (sakura) are a metaphor for life. A brief, brilliant blooming, followed by the inevitable fall.
Westerners think about death and rebirth in the fall. The Japanese think about it in April.
But then, they don't just think about it, they celebrate it. In Japan, anything worth doing is done as a national mission, by invisible (at least to us) consensus. So, there are cherry season foods, cherry festivals, cherry blossom parties, special cherry season beers, TV shows, and news bulletins about the 'cherry blossom front' which moves from Okinawa to the north.
I was surprised by the number and variety of cherry trees that exist. So many colors, sizes, and shapes are found in the parks. Every temple, park, and schoolyard has at least one.
The cherry blossom has long been a symbol in Japanese paintings, poems, songs, and movies. The Japanese have built a large cultural language of these symbols. Hagi, cicadas, the moon, fireflies, and bamboo are other well known symbols.
It's such a potent symbol, that if you say, "like a cherry
blossom...." about almost anything, you can appear to be a poet. Try it next time
you're in Japan and someone tells you that the toilet is broken.
Of course the cherry blossom season is over too soon, but that's what makes it special. Everyone stops to enjoy it.
You don't walk past that tree today, because the blossoms may be gone tomorrow. The intensity is surprising. Standing in a flurry of falling blossoms recreates the joy of standing in falling snow, but there is the sadness of knowing that the blossoms will soon stop falling.
Maruyama Koen is my favorite park,
One of the most memorable nights of my life was spent here, sipping sake,
admiring pretty girls in kimono, listening to drunk men sing karaoke, and contemplating
the short life of a cherry blossom (almost as short as the life of my sake bottle).
The illuminated Maruyama Koen Cherry Tree is the center of this
celebration. Somehow, just being near it at this time makes everything and everyone more
beautiful, like standing next to a bride on her wedding day.