We have been having a lot of fun tidying up our garden and planting flowers, herbs and veggies to enjoy.
We are also fortunate that there are some well established trees too – and right now we are particularly thankful that we have a reasonably sized sakura (cherry blossom) tree. After watching the buds form and getting very excited only about a week ago when the first bud popped open delightfully one morning, we now have a more or less “100% bloom” tree, in that all the buds are now out.
Sakura holds a special place in the hearts of many Japanese people, and mine too, at least in part because it always reminds me of my first trip to Japan (this time of year exactly 15 years ago).
This fleeting time of year when the sakura bloom is normally a time of great celebration, with many revellers enjoying food, sake and general merriment in the midst of the many parks and public spaces that are currently filled with pale pink and white blossoms.
Of course this year is no ordinary year in Japan, with the one month anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster coinciding with the full bloom of the sakura here in Odawara more or less to the day.
There are far fewer revellers this year; in some part because some local governments such as in parts of Tokyo have actively discouraged merry-making. Others may still be mourning, or at least feel it is not yet appropriate to enjoy oneself to excess. No doubt others are still somewhat put off by the ongoing aftershocks – somewhat less of an issue here where we are feeling them less strongly, but I’m sure it’s a consideration for some. Many usual night-time hamami (flower-watching) spots are also effectively closed as the usual night time lighting is being switched off in an effort to conserve electricity.
Personally, while I have full respect for whatever stance people take with respect to this year’s hanami season, my feeling is that while I am certainly not going to be passing out drunk under cherry trees any time soon, I do want to enjoy their beauty and the feeling of peace they bring. (Actually, as an interersting side note, some sake (rice wine) producers from Tohoku are in fact a little displeased at the calls for restraint in this season, since it is further hurting their business: they would much rather people were passing out happily sake drunk on sheets of blue canvas right about now).
Much of what makes sakura special is their ephemeral nature; the flowers have Zen-like qualities of impermanence; fragility. A change of wind or an unexpected rainfall might knock off the blossoms in an instant. And even at the best of times their journey from opening bud to blossom “snow” to street litter takes only a week or two.
To me the cherry reminds me of the soft character of our natural world, but also its rhythmical patterns: next year the flowers will bloom again, albiet briefly. In a similar way, the creakings of the earth and other natural disasters like floods and bushfires visit us from time to time – often with devasting impacts in our communities. To me, this isn’t a time to forget the trajedies that have taken place here or to disrespect them. Rather, I am mindful of the power of the natural world, which is simulaneously all-powerful and yet fragile.
For my part, tending our garden, carefully observing sakura and photographing them brings me some joy in what has been a difficult and stressful time. I hope in some small way my thoughts and photos of make you feel better too.
I’ve also thrown in a bonus picture of our Japanese lounge room, for those who are curious about the innards of our house; not that it entirely fits this post, but it rounds out the number of pictures nicely and didn’t quite justify it’s own post, other than to say I’ve been enjoying scouting for art to adorn the many “hooks and nooks”.