It’s still winter in Japan, but the cherry trees are blooming down in Okinawa. From late January through February and March, cherry blossoms will work their way north as Spring announces its’ arrival. In most of Japan, the seasons are distinct, and throughout Japan’s long history traditions and beliefs have developed around them.
As in many cultures, Spring marks the beginning. It is when new life begins and all things living begin to thrive again after the long cold winter. The importance of Spring is demonstrated best, perhaps by the fact that the school year begins in April. Despite many schools around the world beginning in August, in Japan they choose to begin with the changing of the season.
Change is another big part of life in Japan. The Buddhist ideal of impermanence has old roots in Asian culture. Even in modern history there have been numerous natural, economic, and political disasters that have dramatically changed Japan’s course. These many upheavals have strengthened the idea of an impermanent world in many Japanese people.*
Looking back to the March 11, 2011 tsunami and earthquake disasters, Japan as a whole did not crumble into despair. They accepted what happened with sadness of course, but also with a general sense of inevitability, then began working to make things better.
It is no wonder then, that the sakura (cherry blossom) is such an important symbol in Japan today. Aside from its simple ascetic beauty, the sakura represent change, new life, and the importance of enjoying what you have. The sakura trees bloom for a short time, coloring roads and parks with pink and white, and then disappear for an entire year.
Throughout Japan there will be festivals and ceremonies celebrating the local blooming of the cherry blossoms. Couples and friends will wander and picnic under the boughs of pink. And schools will be decorated with cutouts and pictures and pressed sakura as the eldest prepare to leave.
If you’re in Japan, or can find a garden with Cherry Trees, consider taking a stroll and reflect on the past year, and the new things to come.
This week at More Things Japanese is all about the sakura! In addition to the pictures here, my usual Wednesday and Friday posts will be more great shots from the Ara Forest Path including more of the Mejiro bird seen above and close-ups of some really beautiful sakura.
In or around Okinawa? Consider visiting Kumejima for the Sakura Festival!
Saturday Feb 4
Time: 11:50 – 8:00 Pm
Place: Daruma Mountain Park (だるま山園地) Boasts over 500 sakura trees.
Events: Kid’s Kareoke competition, Live performances (music), Kumejima Soba Festival, Elementary students’ tea party, and more
Sunday Feb 5
Time: 11:00 – 4:00
Place: Daruma Mountain park
Events: Adult Kareoke competition, performances, drums, Experience Kumejima Silk, lottery, Walk Rally, and more.
Of course, there are plenty of sakura trees to see. The Ara Forest path (アーラ林道)pictured above is 4km with over 1500 trees. Enjoy the changing seasons!
For more information on Kumejima’s Sakura Festival this weekend, visit Kanko Kumejima (in Japanese).
*Just a note: I’m speaking in general terms. Not all Japanese people are the same, think the same way, or can really be classified the same way. This is just a kind of general trend that is less common in say, America. Perhaps because Japan has a longer, more isolated historical foundation.