Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Things I Learned in Japan: Why Sakura are so special...

Hello all, I originally was going to post about my trip, but I've decided not to. So many others have posted their stories, experiences, and ways that you can help that I feel it would just be redundant to post the same kind of story. It's a positive story (I'm still alive, obv.), but I feel like we need something even more positive to talk about. So here it is: Sakura.

Some vocab for this post:
花見 - hanami - flower viewing
花見酒 - hamami-zake - drinking while viewing flowers
桜 - sakura - cherry blossoms
桜が咲く - sakura ga saku - cherry blossoms bloom
桜が散る - sakura ga chiru - cherry blossoms fall
桜の開花予想 - sakura no kaika-yosou - estimation of bloom for cherry blossoms
桜の名所 - sakura no meisho - famous places for viewing cherry blossoms

For more vocabulary (and other Japanese lessons), visit this page from Japanese Lessons with Maggie. (Do you like the vocab part? Should I keep it for all future "things I learned in Japan" posts? let me know!)
Sakura, or cherry blossoms as they’re called in English, are a predominant part of Japanese life in the spring. If you’ve never been to Japan, are not Japanese, or are just learning what cherry blossoms are, chances are you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about.
Sakura in Tokyo last year. Some place near Otemachi, but everywhere in Tokyo is close to there.

To be honest, when I was living in Japan and saw how much “sakura” was plastered everywhere, I just didn’t get it. I mean, I had seen pictures, thought they were pretty, but I never really was told what was so special about them (uchi/soto much?). So, I did the very American and un-Japanese thing and asked my host brother to explain why they’re so special to Japanese people.

Sakura only bloom once a year. It starts in the south and spreads upwards, bringing with it a seemingly endless amount of hanami parties, sakura-themed festivals/events, food, drinks from Starbuck’s, TV programs, news stories, singles released by every semi-popular band/boy-band/girl-group and an over-all positive attitude. For any unaware non-Japanese, you’d probably think “…….it’s just a flower….”. But that will probably end as soon as you experience hanami season in Japan.
Sakura from a park I visited with my 4th host mother.
I think that the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi(see here for a good explanation) also applies to their view of sakura. Sakura are special because they teach a valuable lesson about the impermanence of youth, beauty and life itself.

Every spring, sakura bloom. At the height of their beauty, they fall. Once they have fallen, they soon disappear. Quoting this post from zencrafting, “How do we reconcile the beauty and the destruction? Buddhists have a certain way of viewing the cherry blossoms. They enjoy the beauty of the blossoms but recognize that at the height of their beauty they are about to fall. Death resides in their flowering, and their beauty is all the more poignant because it is so fleeting. The sakura teach us about life's impermanence even as we are celebrating this season of rebirth.”

My host brother explained that it is because they are only around once a year and will soon disappear that they are so beautiful. With sakura comes a time of renewal in Japan: the school year is just beginning, winter has (hopefully) just loosened it’s grip, and most people are happy to finally be able to picnic with their friends. (And lets face it, Japanese people love any excuse to kampai and drink until their plastered and fall asleep, especially under beautiful sakura trees)

This year's sakura, in light of the recent (and seemingly unending) earthquakes, will also teach another lesson: recovery. Sakura, no matter how much people adore them, will face defeat against perhaps a late frost, too much wind, or just whither away, but they will return, just as beautiful as before.

And so will Japan. Quoting this post from Geisha, Interrupted(awesome blog, btw): “…In the week after the first quake and tsunami, a friend told me, half-joking, that we really don’t need to see the cherry blossoms bloom and fall this year. We get it. Life is impermanent. We don't need to be reminded yet again.

But maybe we do.

The cherry blossoms teach us that nothing lasts forever, still this concept is not necessarily limited to beauty. Pain and anxiety cannot possibly endure forever either. Rebirth and recovery are just as inevitable. 

That said, the cherry blossoms may be just what we need right now.”

I know I am not alone in thinking that Japan, which has survived for thousands of years, through many unfortunate events, will eventually return to it’s usual beautiful self, given time. It may not happen before next year’s sakura, but it will happen, and I am sure of that.

Until then, we can rejoice in the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms and the lessons they teach us.

This and the following two pictures are the sakura that blossomed at my school.
Taken during lunch from the balcony of my homeroom.
My host mother took these pictures when we visited the park to see sakura.

Articles about sakura, containing pictures of sakura, or the like: (if you find any more, let me know!)
Japanese Lessons with Maggie: Hana Yori Dango
zencrafting: Cherry Blossom Time
Geisha, Interrupted: On Time
「日本語」ワシントンDCパーティーガール社長日記: 桜とわびさび
Caroline Josephine: Sakura Perspective Mixed with Egoist Inspiration
Sushi-cat: Cherry Blossoms
Tokyo fashion-HOLIC: Early cherry blossoms
Shanjae: Sakura 2007
Lost In Translation: Hanami at Osaka Castle
Moments Like Diamonds: Sakura photos from Ichinoe
Tokyo Moe: Sakura song provides winsome melancholy
Agepoyo: Back In Beautiful Japan
1000 Things About Japan: Will Miss #216 - cherry blossoms (the good)

Originally, I was going to make a collection of youtube videos about sakura, but I've decided that would take too much time, so instead I'm going to embed a video that was posted above at Tokyo Moe, but I feel really sums up sakura and all of its beauty.

May this post find you happy, healthy and enjoying every day as it comes♥

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