Spring seems to have sprung in Hamamatsu and the cherry blossom (sakura) is starting to bloom. For more than a month now I have been seeing sakura designs on everything from alcoholic drinks:
To my co-worker’s fingernails:
Sakura symbolises more than just the start of spring in Japan. Sakura has always been a symbol for the transient nature of life – a concept best explained as “mono no aware“. “Mono no aware” (物の哀れ) literally means “the pathos of things”. To quote Wikipedia: “Awareness of the transience of all things heightens appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing“. I think that’s generally how people feel about sakura, and that’s why almost everyone in Japan seems to rush out with a camera and a can of beer at the first sight of the pretty pink flowers blooming.
However, this year, I think a lot of people are looking at the sakura blooming as a symbol of a new hope. If spring can still come, then Japan can continue despite the recent (and still ongoing) disaster.
This year a lot of annual festivals (such as the Hamamatsu Festival and Shizuoka Festival) are being cancelled and with headlines like “Tokyo faces somber “hanami” this year“, you would be forgiven for thinking that “hanami” (cherry blossom viewing parties) had all been cancelled too. Indeed, many Japanese do feel that it isn’t right to celebrate anything at the moment, and a lot of planned events and illuminations have been cancelled out of respect, and also out of power usage concerns. Even some students have talked about cancelling their plans to travel and see cherry blossom, or to have a local party. They just don’t feel it’s right to celebrate.
However, not everyone feels that way. I don’t. I respect the Japanese way, and if people don’t want to celebrate right now, that’s fine. But I think we should look at the sakura as a symbol of hope – spring is coming and life is going on – and respectfully remember those affected by the disaster. As we watch the sakura fall from the trees, we can remember that life is beautiful, and fleeting.
Hanami parties are already happening in Tokyo! So, what are you waiting for? Check out this handy guide for where and when to catch the sakura at its best, grab your plastic sheet and beer, and let’s have a hanami party! I’ll be having mine this coming Sunday – can’t wait! 😀