I had a very Japanesey weekend, which is just what I needed after being away in Vietnam for 8 days.
On Saturday I took a few hours out for some hanami time with a friend. Hanami is the practice of picknicking under cherry blossom leaves. The cherry blossoms (sakura) are in bloom! Here are some photos from our excursion to a local park and the city hall:
On Sunday I spent all day at the Nakanos’, celebrating my friend Fumiji’s 5-year-old daughter’s birthday. It was something of a family reunion, and I met her 2 brothers (and attendant wives and children) for the first time. It was a lot of fun meeting everyone, and especially playing with the kids all day, who are all insanely adorable.
I can’t post photos of the party because the kids are in them, but let me know if you’d like me to send you some.
After the party we drove to a local farm, where Fumiji picked up a new chicken (she recently got a chicken coop and now has more roosters and hens than I can count), and the kids chased a pregnant goat around until she nearly collapsed. It was cute. Along the drive we pointed out and admired all of the gorgeous sakura that are all around town.
I asked Fumiji why the Japanese are so devoted to cherry blossoms – why not ume (plum) blossoms, or any other kind? It’s a difficult question to answer, of course, and maybe there is no real answer. She did explain that back in the Heian period (Japan’s cultural heyday), the sakura were the special pet of the aristocrats, and some of that sentiment has stuck around – the sakura are still considered an elevated flower. Also, the trees bloom just when it’s getting warm in Japan (they only bloom if it’s warm enough), so it’s a terrifically welcome sign of spring.
From this longstanding love of the sakura comes a sort-of belief, superstition, or sentiment, whatever you want to call it, that if you plant a sakura tree a part of your soul will stay with it and enrich the earth with its beauty. So lots of older people plant sakura, even if they won’t be around to see them grow up.
The sakura do represent a faith in and hope for the future. Many of the older schools and institutions have great, big, beautiful sakura lining their entrances. They were planted years ago, of course, and now we reap the benefits. My school, which is only 7 years old, has two medium-sized trees that bloomed very quickly and are still not too impressive. My friend Fumiji, who is starting a garden outside her new house, just planted two sakura that are not much more than twigs.
It’s hard to think of anything we do in the States that represents such patience, care, and optimism towards the future.