Now on to the Cherry Blossoms

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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.

maruyama

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.

first bloom

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.20 petals100 petals 5 petals  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.

Rediscovering Spring

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Each year of my life I rediscover Spring.

The insane energy of it.

The intoxicating scent of it.

The seductive beauty of it.

The wonder and exuberance of it.

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Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. Rainer Maria Rilke

Each year, Spring becomes my favorite season for as long as its promise lasts.

Before its flowers fade.

Before its green changes from brilliant to subdued.

Before its birds have found their mates.

Before the scent of orange blossoms vanishes.

Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

-Mary Oliver

Now, each Spring may be my last, but hasn’t that always been true?   Would we know spring without winter? Can we know life without death?

Dew Evaporates
And all our world is dew…so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting”
Kobayashi Issa

In a few short weeks, I’ll travel to Kyoto again.  If I’m lucky, my trip will be timed with cherry blossom season (sakura); perhaps, the most extravagant celebration of spring on this earth, but one, like life, that is fleeting and unpredictable.

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“Soaring in white clouds, The cherry trees are in full bloom, Every branch bending with loaded blossoms. But the wind is ceaseless as the peak is lofty, And day after day falls the spring rain; The flowers have scattered from the upper sprays. May the blossoms on the lower branches neither fall nor lose their beauty, Till you, who journey, grass for pillow, Come home again !”  Mushimaro, 8th Century