This year I had the opportunity to travel to Japan with my college age daughter for her spring break. Her break fell the last week of March and when she was planning her trip she said “wouldn’t it be great if the cherry blossoms were blooming while we were there!” Well, we were unaware that it would be the peak week for the blooms in Tokyo and Kyoto. We were also unaware of what a big deal this time of year is for the Japanese people.
The cherry blossoms are small delicate pale pink flowers that are known as “sakura”. The springtime bloom is a lavish spectacle that only lasts one to two weeks after which the blooms fall like snow to the ground and wither. There are so many cherry trees of various colors and varieties throughout Japan that every city has streets and canals lined with flowering trees. It really is so beautiful that words and photos don’t do them justice! The tradition of enjoying the blooms with outdoor parties and picnics under the trees is called “hanami”. It is a tradition as old as the trees and was established as a ritual as early as 710. Today it is a national pastime with deep cultural and religious roots. Everyone stops and gathers to picnic, drink sake and eat sakura flavored desserts, candies and drinks under the trees. The celebrations go on all day and into the night with paper lanterns lighting the trees. Women in beautiful kimonos and gowns pose for photos and families gather for family portraits.
The sakura signals the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism. The blooming coincides the beginning of the Japanese calendar year and brings new hope and dreams. When the cherry blossoms are in bloom the future is bursting with possibilities. The sakura is also a metaphor for life, the brief brilliant blooming is followed by the inevitable fall. They are tied to Buddhist themes of mortality, mindfulness and living in the present. The sakura is a visual reminder of the transience of life and impermanence. So, if you are in Japan during this time you don’t walk past a blooming tree today without taking in it’s beauty because tomorrow it might be gone. The intensity of this experience was surprising to my daughter and I. Now that we have been home a few weeks, we are still trying to take it all in!
As I write this blog, the dogwoods, red bud trees, azaleas and flowers are all exploding into blooms here in Knoxville. I hope that you will take time with your children to get out and enjoy this special time of year and cherish this time with your family and friends!!