Monday, April 15, 2013

Earth-bound clouds in Tokyo

Yoyogi Park in Tokyo - several groups were reserving their hanami picnic spots in the park early in the morning, despite the cold. The blossoms of Prunus x yedoensis appear before the leaves and so are regarded as "earth-bound clouds" by the Japanese.
The Japanese imperial throne might have the Chrysanthemum as its symbol, but there is nothing more essentially Japanese than sakura, the cherry blossom. As Matthew Wilson recently wrote in his excellent article in Financial Times, admiring sakura is very deeply rooted in the Japanese soul, associated as they are with the cultural tradition of mono no aware, the awareness of the impermanence and transience of things, and consequent restrained sadness for their passing. What a beautiful concept in our world all too much fixated on permanent youth - and related quick 'remedies'.
From early March in the south to late May in the furthest parts of the country in the north, the sakura zensen, or the cherry blossom front, rides like a frothy wave through the country, with daily weather reports carefully keeping track on the best dates for viewing. Hanami picnics are planned accordingly, and the best parks get very busy, people sitting on their tarps from early mornings to reserve place for the rest of the party to arrive. While in Tokyo, several groups were already spreading their waterproof sheets on the ground in Yoyogi park early in the morning, even if the weather was freezing cold. Patience is a characteristic to be connected with Japanese arts, but it comes handy in other aspects of life there as well.
The Japan Weather Association publishes a special forecast for the sakura bloom in the whole country from south to north, you can find it here. Sakura are celebrated in parks and temples all over the country, making the ritual of 'hanami' the floral event with most participants on the whole planet.

You are never too young to have your first sakura portrait taken... from Hama-rikyu park in Tokyo.

 Everywhere, people ask passers-by to take pictures of them in front of especially beautiful cherry specimens. We found this one at the Arisugawanomiya Memorial Park in Hiro-o (and took some family photos in front of it, too).
 Another beautiful cherry tree in the same park...

 ... and a whole family sitting down for a picnic under it, in the middle of the working week. People tend to take time off during the sakura peak season to celebrate hanami with their family and friends.

In Japan, one glorious blooming season is enough to captivate a whole nation... While so many other plants are bred for repeat flowering these days, I'm sure that even the most profit-hungry nurserymen understand how unnatural this would be in the case of cherries (and lilacs, and so many other harbingers of spring) that would loose their special magic if they would bloom repeatedly the warm season through...mono no aware, again.


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