Sakura: Japan is Pretty in Pink

“I wish the cherry blossoms lived longer than a week.”

“No,” she’s shaking her head, her brow furrowed in concentration. “Japanese people – we like them to fall as fast as they bloom.”

There’s food for thought.

“Why?”

She can’t explain it to me in English, but when she gestures towards the trees, lit up now by the lanterns hanging above, I think I might understand.

It’s late – 10:30 – and the Kudamatsu Park is nearly deserted. Nearly, but there are still 2 or 3 couples, holding hands and walking under the blossoms along the riverbank or picking up the remnants of a leisurely hanami. The sky is starless, but I only know that once we’ve driven away; the white-pink petals light up the night just the same.

Yesterday I hanami‘d in Iwakuni, at the Kintaikyo Bridge. I hear it’s the best place in all of Yamaguchi for cherry blossoms. I marveled at the crowds of people, Yamaguchi-residents, no doubt – but they took as many pictures as me. They see this every year, isn’t it average now? Not here, not for Japanese.

They call sakura a season, although it only lasts a little over a week. It always falls during spring vacation, and I doubt that’s a coincidence. Just like calligraphy, tea ceremony and flower arrangement, Japanese treat the blossoms as sacred – a traditional art. They revel in the beauty of spring’s pronouncement and take their time enjoying it.

Hanami, cherry blossom viewing, is its own word – a verb, a noun, a time, an event. On the lone weekend in a year when all the buds have burst and the country is sprinkled pink, everyone, it seems, pauses their busy lives, grabs a tarp and their favorite Japanese foods and drinks and sits under the trees. They celebrate beauty and nature with their time. Hanami is an homage to the  blossoms and to life, perhaps; it’s just as fleeting as the petals.

We are driving slowly out of the park. There are 2 more couples, both laughing and looking up into the snaking sakura trees. It’s rare to see such displays of affection and emotion here, especially by young people. It’s so relatable – their joy in the blossoms and each other, and that’s as refreshing as the spring air the blossoms welcome home.

Iwamoto-san is still lost in concentration, her face reflecting the inner battle with English words.

“I think I understand, Iwamoto-san. If something so beautiful lived any longer, it wouldn’t be as special. Hanami could be every day, and that’s not the essence of hanami at all.”

She nods.

There’s so much more to it that my simple explanation and understanding misses. The language and cultural barriers will probably always stand in the way of me knowing exactly what she meant. Japanese people – we like them to fall as fast as they bloom.

But the beauty of the petals, fluttering down as we drive like satin raindrops from a cloudless sky – that doesn’t need translation. If I had this magical week to look forward to every spring, maybe I’d only want it to last for an instant, too. But for now, when my time here is so short, I want sakura season to last all year long.

Iwamoto-san under the blossoms at Kudamatsu Park. She used to live right by the park and took me to her favorite sakura-viewing spot.

Callie, Tiffany, Alex and I joined the hanami'ing masses in Iwakuni at the famous Kintaikyo Bridge.

Tiffany, Callie and me

My Boulevard of Cherry Blossoms

We paid 300yen ($4ish) to cross the bridge - a small price for such beautiful views and photo-ops!

How the sakura see the bridge.

...and then Callie got shat on by a bird!

There was something majestic about this scene. The sakura are as transient as the temple is permanent, and yet both are inextricably linked to religion. Like the flowers, a Buddhist soul is regenerative. Beautiful.

At twilight, the lanterns light the path,.

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~ by C on April 25, 2010.

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