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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.

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The short lived Cherry Blossom

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.

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Cherry Trees in Kyoto

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.
Look into the distance and say, "like a cherry blossom..."
You'll draw a misty eyed look from at least one person, I guarantee it.

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Sanki-en, Yokohama

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.

The Weeping Cherry at Maruyama Koen, Kyoto

Maruyama Koen is my favorite park,
in my favorite neighborhood (Gion),
in my favorite city (Kyoto)
in the world (Earth).

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). 
Anyone who thinks that the Japanese don't know how to relax and have fun needs to be in this park in April.

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.
And like a bride, cherry trees have a beauty that lasts in our minds long after the event.