Sunday, April 5, 2009

(This is Alexandra's post on cherry blossoms, or sakura. Thank you Alex!)

For the Japanese people cherry blossoms have spiritual meaning, they symbolize the transience of life. This concept is very deeply rooted in the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, that the state of all life is suffering and transitory. The beauty of the flower and their brief life, beginning each spring symbolizes the essence of a human’s short life well-lived. (Ann McClellan) It is important to realize that the concept of a short life represents both life and death. The life process is considered cyclical as life leads to death and death is predicated upon life and then followed by rebirth. (Sepp Linhart) Summed up in the phrase mono no aware, cherry blossoms are linked with the notion that sadness is inevitable when tied with the experience of beauty because nothing lasts forever. This phrase perpetuates the notion of a short life well lived, which is still evident in today’s Japanese culture with the annual Hanami festival held in honor of the cherry trees. (Christian Roy)

Cherry blossoms are a symbol of Japan’s national character. The life of a samurai in feudal times was traditionally compared to the short lived cherry blossoms in that they last no more than three days. To old samurai there was no greater glory than to die on the battlefield like scattered cherry blossoms.

The planting of cherry trees, most specifically in ceremonies still holds importance for people of rural Japan. For them dropping cherries whose branches had fallen to the ground were believed to be the souls of the deceased people who traveled through the blue sky and down to the ground through the cherry trees.

Today when cherry trees bloom Japanese people from all walks of life participate in Hanami, the flower blooming festival. It celebrates the week long flowering of the cherry trees in spring. The origins of Hanami are said to date back to the Seventh Century when the blooming of cherry blossoms was considered an truthful indicator for the conditions of the coming harvest. (Ranjan Shandilya) Full blooms would signify an ample rice harvest and this would be cause for celebration among the merchant classes.

A favorite station of Hanami‘s floral pilgrimage is Mount Yoshino on Honshu Island. Traditionally it holds that this is where a Buddhist monk planted the first cherry trees in Japan. During the festival, people come out in large numbers at parks, temples and shrines with family and friends to hold flower viewing parties. The festival is held to celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossoms and it gives people a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful view. (Christian Roy)

During the Hanami festival the traditional folk song ‘Sakura, Sakura’ is chanted; (Ann McClellan)

Cherry blossoms, Cherry blossoms
Across March skies.
As far as you can see,
Mists or clouds?
Their fragrance is floating,
Let us go, let us go
It’s a must see!

On a final yet interesting note, the traditional Japanese values of purity and simplicity are thought to be reflected in the form and colour of the cherry blossoms.

~guest blogger, Alexandra Woolf