I always knew cherry blossoms were important in Japanese culture, but I didn’t understand deeply until I went there.
I arrived in Japan April 2nd this year. On my first morning, I walked around the Tokyo neighborhood where I stayed. A young couple were training two pure-bred dogs to stay, a person jogged past on the riverside path, traffic whirred by on the raised highway and a middle aged man sat by himself on a park bench. He fitted his camera with a telephoto lens and began photographing some of the newly opened cherry blossoms.
Over the next two days in Tokyo we walked through local parks where large blue tarps spread under all the cherry trees. People got up early to set up the tarps to reserve their favorite places under their favorite trees for their evening Hanami, or blossom viewing parties. I thought the blossoms were pretty and I could tell everyone was excited about them, but the branches were still nearly naked and I didn’t expect what was to come.
I went north out of cherry blossom front for about a week, but I kept seeing the blossoms. They were depicted on menus, on sake bottle labels, and the 200 year old woodcuts in museums.
When I traveled south again on April 10, I entered the heart of the bloom. Osaka’s trees were drowning in blossoms. I had expected the trees would have a blossom punctuating each branch, like the apple trees I remember from my grandparent’s orchard. I was in awe that each branch was sleeved in pink ruffles and I couldn’t put my camera away.
Yet when I went back to Tokyo on April 14, petals blew across sidewalks and covered ponds with mats of crushed pink confetti. The few trees which had bloomed late were ringed by people taking selfies.
I asked a few people why the petite blossoms are such a big deal. Everyone agreed they are emblematic of the beauty and brevity of life. They have captured the attention of an entire nation for centuries.
Here is where the sci-fi reader and author in me takes over: What if the door to indefinite youth is unlocked? Will the cherry blossoms have the same meaning to the people who celebrate them?