A haiku poem: Life a butterfly/More like a cherry blossom/Beautiful, transient. The origin of both haiku and cherry blossoms, or sakura (桜), is Japanese. The former is 800 years old. The cherry blossom tree is over 1,200 years old. It blooms but once a year, in the early springtime, and for only one week. It reminds us that life is beautiful, although fleeting.
The tradition of enjoying sakura and picnicking under a blooming cherry blossom tree is called hanami and is as old as the cherry blossom tree itself. The words have become synonymous with one another. The word hana (花)means flowers, but over the years has come to be interchangeable with cherry blossoms.
In Japan, springtime is a much-anticipated time, when families and friends congregate and spend time amidst the blooming cherry blossom trees, of which there are thousands upon thousands in the island country. Japanese who are out of the country during this time yearn nostalgically for this season, where the ephemeral beauty of the trees is held in reverence.
There are many places outside of Japan where one can enjoy cherry blossom trees, including all over the United States. These trees have been given as gifts from the Japanese, in the spirit of amity and connection. The most famous area in the U.S. is Washington, D.C., and the Embassy of Japan in the U.S. presents many public festivals during the time of the blooming. 2012 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Gift of the Trees.
In modern Japan, friends and families gather for outdoor parties, which can take place during the day or evening. Paper lanterns are hung so that people can view the splendor of the cherry blossoms at night, as well, so as to take full advantage of the beauty of this brief, transient season.
In Japan, people carefully watch the blossom forecast, or sakura-zensen (桜前線), which is announced by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, as the blooms are greatly dependent on the weather. (See map.) The blossoms last for a week or two, beginning in February in the southern part of the main island of Okinawa, and continuing until early May in the north. Right now it is cherry blossom season in Matsumoto-city, which is in the center of Okinawa.
The weather bureau forecast is important because cherry blossoms thrive in temperatures between 60 and 70◦F (between 15 and 22◦C). Global warming trends can force the blossoms to open a few weeks earlier than usual. Cold rains can force the blossoms off the trees. So, precision is important for the greatest appreciation of the beauty.
The concept of impermanence is Buddhist because life is ever changing. This is true regarding health, youth, wealth, and status. There is instability in life, and although there is beauty, happiness and joy, they are not forever. Therefore, it is important to appreciate what is for now.
So important are cherry blossom trees to Japan that they are in symbolized in clothing design, gifts, home furnishings, and even found in food. Cherry blossom branches are boiled to create pink fabric dye.
Visitors to Japan can enjoy cherry blossom flowers and leaves on their sticky rice, and cherry blossom-infused Kit Kat bars, cocktails, and even ice cream. (Delicious!)
The cherry blossom is a reminder of what each person has and its impermanence. The beauty of life is but a transient point in time. In the midst of cherry blossom season, there is a reminder: Physically fleeting/catching glimpses of beauty/Endures in the heart.
By Fern Remedi-Brown
Personal communication with Kazuko Izawa, Matsumoto-city, Japan
Personal communication with Chisato Shiba, Program Officer, JOICFP, Tokyo, Japan
Teachings in Chinese Buddhism
Personal communication with Jing Wang, Virginia Beach, VA regarding Washington, DC cherry blossoms
The Baltimore Sun
Sakura fabric dye
Photo credits: Kazuko Izawa, Matsumoto-city, Japan and Jingsong Chen, Virginia Beach, VA, USA