Sakura Time 2012: A photo journey of Tokyo’s awesome cherry blossom viewing
The cherry blossom (桜・sakura) has always been the symbol of ephemeral beauty in the Japanese culture, and very often associated with the bushi and samurai, among whom it was said that life was short and beautiful, like a cherry flower.
It is thought that the custom of hanami (花見) aka flower watching” under the fully blossomed cherry trees originated among the nobles, when the Kokin Wakashyu 古今和歌集, a waka poem collection was assembled during the 10th century. Before the cherry blossoms became the object of poetic adoration, the plum tree blossoms were the source of much poetic observation. However, the growth of Buddhism and its bittersweet observations on the transience of existence seemed to make cherry blossoms, with their short lives, seem a lot cooler. It is also known that during the Edo period, the Shogunate gave the order to plant cherry trees around the city of Edo, the current Tokyo—which also helped the hanami boom. It is also true that hanami actually existed before karaoke was even invented and that in ancient times people celebrated it without drinking Asahi Super Dry.
During the Second World War, the sakura was a symbol of the Japanese people’s strength and motivation. Very often the kamikaze soldiers would paint sakura flowers on their airplane before they were sent on suicide missions, as a symbol of beauty and short life nature.
Even nowadays the Japanese military and police forces use the sakura flower as an emblem: the Japanese National Police Agency and The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department are based in Sakuradamon, 桜田門. (The 100 yen coins are also engraved with a cherry blossom symbol.)
The book 英語対訳で読む、美しい日本の『こころ』(The Beautiful Japansese Mind), states that this image of the cherry blossoms “embodies mujoukan, 無常観, (the feeling of transience and emptiness), and isagiyosa, 潔さ, (giving up gracefully).” Of course, the same Japanese military that so revered this symbol didn’t give up gracefully before the launch of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, but that’s beside the point.
Every year, the Japanese Meteorological Agency follows the sakura zensen 桜前線, (the frontlines of the sakura blossom) and every evening the news has an update on the current state of the sakura invasion and the general health of the remaining sakura blossoms as they go from budding, to fully blooming, to finally withering and falling in a flurry of white flowers.
The cherry blossom lines starts in Okinawa and move up to Kyoto, Tokyo, and progresses into the north a few weeks later on to Hokkaido.
The life of a sakura flower is considered as the most beautiful way of life for the Japanese people. “Bloom beautifully and fade gracefully.” It is an ideal slightly different from “Live fast and die young”. So before the last of the sakura fade, gracefully enjoy them at the park of your choice and ponder the transience of life, while having a good time.