Text by Yusuke Tanaka Editor of the Nikkei Voice
Life and death, the cycle of life is projected in the metaphoric image of “Sakura,” the name for cherry blossoms in Japan. The image has also been used to describe the purity of a woman’s virginity and the explosive suicidal action of Harakiri. A formidable fate of the Japanese, men and women. Sakura obsesses Japan indeed.
Beyond the three main philosophies -Shintoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism- that have built the spiritual background of Japan, the Sakura trees, and the beautiful blossoms they create, have become the symbol of the sublime spirit in Japan
So every spring, the Sakura blossoms in a frontline, running from the southernmost tip of Okinawa to the northernmost edge of Hokkaido. Everyone is eager to learn where the Sakura frontline has reached, (“Sakura took Kyoto today!”, “It will reach Nagoya in a couple of days. We’d better be prepared to see them this weekend.”)
Thus, the pink blanket of Sakura blossoms cover the entire Japanese archipelagoes, colouring the mountains, parks and streets. People get together under the Sakura trees for Hanami (Sakura viewing) and they open up the cap of Sake bottles as they start their fiesta, singing, dancing in the beauty of Sakura, to celebrate the return of new life and the passing of a deadly season; the cold and somber winter.
Then, after a week or so, a blast of spring wind blows the Sakura petals harshly, ruthlessly, wildly, sending millions of the petals flying up into the air like fluttering birds. Walking in the corridor of a pink carpet, people know “All things must pass.” That life disappears like illusion, like fireworks.
Sad, isn’t it? Not, really. The beauty of life exists in the moment of ecstasy, explosion. From the noblemen’s poem in their love letters in Heian periods of the 8th century to the letter of farewell of Kamikaze pilots of 20th century, the metaphor of Sakura never passed away as if all things have been in the cycle of reincarnation.
When closely looked, the color of Sakura falls somewhere between white and red, lacking the passionate red tone of a rose or shiny white of a lily. A Sakura petal weighs like a paper tip. Each tiny petal attracts little attention. But once a row of trees explode in a flurry of petals, it strikes you with its majestic gorgeousness and overwhelming power.
And when the night falls and the full moon hides and seeks above the clouds, Sakura suddenly turns to a mysterious, seductive, and mesmerizing figure. You will see, you are trapped. You can not get away from the joy and the awe of Sakura.
So the sakura makes you create poems, makes you sing love songs, makes you seductive, makes you go for broke, and makes you think about “life and death” the moment you look up the blossoms.
The legend of Sakura has been passed onto the generations this way and will never cease to appear that way.