My memories of Japan will all be graced with images of trees covered in pink and white cherry blossoms, sakura in Japanese. We were so lucky to visit at this time and in a year when the blossoms are remarkably pretty and long-lasting.
Our first few days in Tokyo, we delighted in seeing any tree with pink buds and maybe a few open flowers. We did not know what awaited us. As we traveled south to Hiroshima and then north to Osaka and Tsuruga, the town where Max works teaching English, we found ourselves in a surge of sakura.
The blossom-laden trees are everywhere – in the forests on the hillsides, in the middle of an empty field, in private yards, in long rows bordering streets, rivers and canals, around temples and in city parks. The sight of these magnificent trees can stop you in your tracks and lead you to take hundreds of pictures. They are simple beautiful.
I did not know that the sakura is Japan’s national flower. Though it only lasts about two weeks, to the people of Japan this little blossom is full of symbolism. It embodies the beauty of life and how quickly it fades and dies, it urges us to make the most of our lives and to be happy. Since the spring blossom coincides with the new fiscal and school years in Japan, it also stands for renewal.
Japan celebrates sakura with Hanami or blossom-viewing parties. Families, friends and coworkers gather in parks under the blooming trees. They cover the ground in blue tarps to sit on. They bring picnics, barbecues, beer and sake, they even order take-out pizza. They party during the day and into the evening when the trees in the parks and on temple grounds are illuminated, creating a magical atmosphere of soft, muted hues. Even in cold weather, these spaces are full of people admiring the trees and perhaps pondering the meaning of life.