It’s not an exaggeration to state that cherry blossom season in Japan is a Big Deal. A VERY BIG DEAL! The Japanese celebrate their beauty in every conceivable way. Hundreds of trees are illuminated in temples and shrines in the evenings. Lively picnics are held with friends and family under the flowering trees. Copious amounts of sake are consumed. Food is adorned with cherry blossoms, special foods and drinks are made, and pink is the color of the day. Very old trees, hundreds of years old, become revered and famous. Their branches are supported and they even have their own cherry tree “doctors.”
The first time I viewed the weeping cherry tree in Maruyama Park, I wept. Its presence was overwhelming.
Forecast maps put out by the weather service and others are eagerly awaited. They project the dates of the first blooms of sakura in each part of the country. It’s undeniably the dream of every international tourist to be in Japan for cherry blossom viewing (hanami). Myself included. Sites tend to be very crowded, but everyone is in very good spirits and its relatively easy to go off the beaten path.
My two previous visits to Japan in April missed their target. We were too late. Unusually warm weather in mid March encouraged the flowers to bloom early. At their peak, a strong wind shattered the flowers. There’s a message there too, Life is fleeting.
This year I’m taking no chances. I’m arriving a full week earlier than I did for the previous Aprils when I disappointedly arrived at the tail end of the season. Many years ago, when my visits did coincide with the blossoms, the experience was transcendent. After a visual high like that, it’s a short step to wanting to repeat it again and again.
The first bloom in Kyoto, ascertained by looking at a particular tree each year, showed its color yesterday. I’ll be arriving in Kyoto in 3 more days. That means, if we’re lucky, we’ll have at least a week of unfolding blossoms across the city, some early, some late, all splendid. Factoid: The number of petals on a cherry blossom range from 5 to over 100.
This year, I’m ready to inhale their delicate fragrance, nibble pink sweets, wear petal pink nail polish and wrap myself in a generous light wool shawl that was dyed with cherry blossoms an absolutely exquisite pink.