I want to see the Cherry Blossom Festival
The Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival
A popular Rite of Spring for the Japanese people is the traditional Hanami celebration or cherry blossom party. It involves sitting under a blooming cherry tree.
The cherry tree, sakura, is native to Japan, and every time I look at the tiny cherry blossom in my garden I long to see the real thing in its country of origin, in Spring, at the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Every year the Japanese people track the sakura zensen, the cherry blossom front, as it moves northward. One year I will follow it myself.
The Meaning of the Cherry Blossom
The cherry blossoms are not just beautiful, they have a deep significance.
Cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, and herald in a time of awakening and promise after a cold, gray winter of introspection. Dark dormant trees erupt with colour and life. In a few short days, showers of delicate pink and white petals give way to new leaves.
The beauty of the blossoms lasts a brief time only, a metaphor of the beauty, mystery, and ephemeral quality of life.
Gorgeous Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom and Popular Culture
The Cherry Blossom is an established element in Japanese culture
The cherry blossoms resemble clouds and the fallen blossoms can be likened to snow - images that traditionally captivate Japanese artistic sensibilities. The flower's brief and fragile blooming time lends itself to contemplation of the mysteries around us, of the mystery of life itself. The Cherry Blossom is a reminder to not become too attached to a particular outcome, all will pass.
The fallen Cherry Blossom, drifting onto the snow, is a common theme in Japanese literature and often represents the life of a warrior ended in battle.
The Goddess of Mount Fuji is Konohanasakuyahime, "The Goddess who can revive dead flowers", She decorates her mountain with Cherry Blossom every Spring.
A Japanese Story
- The Old Man Who Made The Trees Blossom
Many years ago on the island of Japan stood a beautiful little wooden house. It sat in a small garden in a farming village in the misty hills and had red ceramic roof tiles that kept the kind old man and woman who lived in it warm and dry all winter.
Cherry Tree of the Sixteenth Day
From Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan, 1904
In Wakegori, a district of the province of Iyo , there is a very ancient and famous cherry-tree, called Jiu-roku-zakura, or "the Cherry-tree of the Sixteenth Day," because it blooms every year upon the sixteenth day of the first month (by the old lunar calendar),-- and only upon that day. Thus the time of its flowering is the Period of Great Cold,-- though the natural habit of a cherry-tree is to wait for the spring season before venturing to blossom. But the Jiu-roku-zakura blossoms with a life that is not -- or, at least, that was not originally -- its own. There is the ghost of a man in that tree.
The Story of the Ghost in the Tree
There was a samurai of Iyo; and the tree grew in his garden; and it used to flower at the usual time,-- that is to say, about the end of March or the beginning of April. He had played under that tree when he was a child; and his parents and grandparents and ancestors had hung to its blossoming branches, season after season for more than a hundred years, bright strips of colored paper inscribed with poems of praise.
He himself became very old,-- outliving all his children; and there was nothing in the world left for him to live except that tree.
And lo! in the summer of a certain year, the tree withered and died!
Exceedingly the old man sorrowed for his tree. Then kind neighbors found for him a young and beautiful cherry-tree, and planted it in his garden,-- hoping thus to comfort him. And he thanked them, and pretended to be glad. But really his heart was full of pain; for he had loved the old tree so well that nothing could have consoled him for the loss of it.
Migawari ni tatsu
At last there came to him a happy thought: he remembered a way by which the perishing tree might be saved. (It was the sixteenth day of the first month.) Along he went into his garden, and bowed down before the withered tree, and spoke to it, saying: "Now deign, I beseech you, once more to bloom,-- because I am going to die in your stead." (For it is believed that one can really give away one's life to another person, or to a creature or even to a tree, by the favor of the gods;-- and thus to transfer one's life is expressed by the term migawari ni tatsu, "to act as a substitute.") Then under that tree he spread a white cloth, and divers coverings, and sat down upon the coverings, and performed hara-kiri after the fashion of a samurai.
And the ghost of him went into the tree, and made it blossom in that same hour.
And every year it still blooms on the sixteenth day of the first month, in the season of snow.
Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo, 2008
The Bullet Train Pass
I bought this guide, it looked essential to me.
I'd heard about the Japanese rail system and the book explains how to travel around the country on a tight budget, using the Japan Rail Pass. The cost of the pass is less than a single train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto. An amazing bargain! Lots of detail about getting hold of the Pass before you leave home.
It includes timetables and information about places along the way,
Enjoying the Cherry Blossom Festival - Sakura Matsuri,
The blooming of the cherry trees is celebrated with a festival, the Sakura Matsuri.
Some places have over 250,000 people in one day! I want to be one of them, just once.
Hanami, Cherry Blossom Viewing
Hanami, the Cherry Blossom Viewing, has been a Japanese custom since the 7th century when the aristocrats enjoyed looking at beautiful sakura and wrote poems.
You don't have to be an aristocrat these days, or to write poetry.
You don't even have to be Japanese.
What do you think of the Cherry Blossom Festival?
Would you travel to Japan to see the Cherry Blossom?
© 2010 Susanna Duffy