All right, time for an obligatory cherry blossom post.
I was thinking recently about the Deep Meaning of cherry blossoms in Japan. Seriously, this is a flower that has inspired so much poetry, painting, song, and food that there really isn’t much left to say. In a nutshell: the blossoms bloom for only a few days before falling in a glorious pink shower, making them an apt metaphor for the ephemeral nature of beauty and really, all good things in life.
There are names for every phase—really every half-hour increment—of cherry blossom season. There are special words for closed blossoms, blossom buds, just-open blossoms, half-open blossoms, blossoms in full bloom (the Great Cherry Climax), and fallen blossoms (the afterglow?). For me, though, there are three main phases: 1)the hype phase, when everyone starts planning their parties and the news channels begin to obsessively follow the movement of the blossom front, 2) the three or four days of full bloomage, when the parks are full of revelers and the whole of Tokyo seems to be half pink, and 3) the fall, when clumps of fallen blossoms litter the sidewalks and you can often find yourself in a blossom shower on the way to work.
There’s one meaning to the cherry blossoms that has become even more significant in the past year—they’re an indicator that all is as it should be. In a weird way, part of that hype period is filled with wondering whether it will actually happen this year. Or at least whether the full-bloom period will escape a heavy rain that might destroy the blossoms before anyone has a chance to appreciate them. When the blossoms do finally begin to bloom, there’s a deep sense of relief. For this year at least, this one thing is happening again, just like it did last year.
In 2011, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering whether the cherry trees would actually bloom. After everything that had happened, it seemed kind of impossible. People were told not to do their usual boisterous thing under the blossoms out of respect for the dead and the displaced. But when the blossoms did bloom it seemed to be a huge relief for everyone, a sign that things would eventually get better. The parties might have been more subdued, but the parks were still crowded.
I get excited during the blossom hype period and always worry that I won’t get a chance to go to a proper viewing spot, because I always wonder if this might be my last hanami, or at least my last one for a while. I suppose a lot of foreign nationals feel the same way. But even if you’re certain you’ll be in Japan forever, any hanami really could be your last, so it makes sense to enjoy the hell out of the ones you’ve got.
I think my favorite period, though, is the fall, when I can walk home through showers of falling blossoms and random bits of cobblestone and concrete are covered in little pink petals. The parties under the blossoms are fun (though I’ve become a crotchety old woman who can’t abide the obnoxious crowds in Ueno or Yoyogi anymore). But it’s the fall, the signal that this tiny little cycle of life has come to another end, that really makes me feel that all is as it should be. And gives me an excuse to twirl under the trees for a bit.
Read more hanami-themed posts over at J-Festa.