If you ask any Japanese person, “when would be a good time to visit Japan?,” I guarantee you that you’ll be met by excited and convincing cries of “Cherry Blossom Season, of course!”
Late March and early April are some of the best weeks to visit Japan, as you are very likely to arrive at the height of the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. Somei Yoshino (Prunus yedoensis) is the best-loved variety. Originally cultivated in the late Edo era (1603-1863), they can now be seen all over Japan. It’s interesting to note that all of these thousands of Somei Yoshino trees originate from just one tree – it doesn’t form seeds, so can only be propagated through cuttings. Because they are essentially all the same tree, they come into full blossom within the space of just few days, covering whole regions in dreamy blush pink.
The casual observer would be forgiven for thinking the Japanese are obsessed with Sakura. As soon as the calendar hits March, the weather forecasters start predicting when the blossoms will arrive in each part of the country, streaming webcams are set up, and everyone on the street and in the offices begin to plan their Hanami (flower viewing party). Famous Sakura viewing spots will be packed with literally hundreds of thousands of people at the peak of the display.
So, why is this humble flower, a poor relation from the rose family, so popular with the Japanese? It is indeed breathtakingly beautiful. It is one of the earliest flowers to arrive, announcing the start of Spring. However, the root of this love probably lies in the way it blooms. Sakura, especially the typical Somei Yoshino, flowers for just a few days or so. It is a flower with an intense beauty, but one that is fleeting and ephemeral. As the flower dies, it produces a rain of flower petals, known as Hana Fubuki (flower snowfall), as it resembles falling snowflakes. It is overwhelmingly beautiful, romantic, and bittersweet. Imagine, thousands of light pink flower petals engulfing you so gently and so quietly – it is a deeply moving experience. Some say this fits with the Japanese aesthetic of beauty; there is a philosophical parallel understood by the Japanese that relates to the arts of the tea ceremony and flower arrangement The philosophy says that life is fragile and inconstant, everything is in transient. Don’t cling to it. Remain detached. Learn from the way of Sakura blossoms.
Years ago, I was commissioned to offer my design and Feng Shui service to an 85 year old client in Florida. She graciously offered to have me stay at her house and I was asked to cook Japanese meals to dine together. Cooking and eating together was a wonderful way to deepen our friendship. As I was setting the table, she brought out a set of very expensive silk place mats. They did not appear to be washing machine safe. I told her in horror imagining a big soy sauce stain on them, “Oh my goodness, they are too beautiful and precious to use! Please save them for a special occasion!”
What she told me then has stayed with me ever since:
“Eiko, everyday is a special day.”
Each time I set the dining table, I remember her words. I remember that every day is a special day. I remember the feeling of being engulfed with pink petals falling – bittersweet realization that everything is impermanent, life is undeniably very short. All I’m asked to do is to treasure what I have “now” – this precious present moment.
Do you have a dress you are saving for a special date? Is your grandmother‘s beautiful china set put away in the basement for only a once a year holiday dinner? Why not enjoy them today? Are you waiting for “the right time” to take your dream vacation? Are you putting off calling your mother to tell her you love her until next weekend? Please do it now. “Some day later” might not come.
May your spring be filled with a series of awe inspiring present moments!
I brought back a few “Omaromi” (good luck charms) from the Ryoshouji-Temple in my hometown. The ones with cherry blossoms are hand made by the monk’s wife and very sweet. You may carry them in your pocket or a purse for your protection and good luck. I would love to give them to those who are interested – please send me a message, I’ll follow up and get the mailing address from you and mail them out at first come/first served basis.