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	Cherry blossoms on a branch

April 2010, Flavor of the Month:

Cherry Blossoms (Sakura) in April

I recently read in the newspaper that cherry blossoms started to bloom on March 18th in Central Japan, the area where I come from. When I was a child, they usually bloomed around April 7th. In those days, we children hoped that on the first day of school—which was April 4th or 5th—that the sakura (cherry blossoms) would welcome us to the new school year. Sakura was like the alternative name for April. Due to the tendency to bloom early now, sakura may be becoming a harbinger of March rather than April. However, I believe that the meaning of the sakura remains in the heart of many Japanese people.

I’ve wondered what is so strikingly unique and special about sakura? One thing, I believe, is the delicate color itself. The light, soft pink provides warmth and cheerfulness. Its neutral color-tone is soothing. Throughout Japan you find sakura everywhere – along boulevards, in parks and mountains, or in the tiny yard next to a humble house. Quite a few sakura trees are old and tall, and they are often planted in clusters. When you walk under the trees and look up, it seems as though even the sky is painted pink. Your universe is pink.

However, sakura can be enjoyed only for a week, or less. Japanese cherry blossoms are not hardy like some flowering trees found in the United States. Sakura petals are merely perched on the stem. A gust of wind will mercilessly pluck them off, as would a light spring rain. This would have the same effect as a bucket of water dumped on a bouquet of pansies. Because of this fragility, sakura have been considered symbols of “aware” – the pathos of life - for centuries, and even the mighty samurai stood in awe before these delicate blossoms, destined to fall. Like the sakura, the samurai were willing to lay down their lives for honor without a second thought.

The short lifespan of the sakura reminds people of our lives on earth. Youth is short. Beauty may be a passing traveler, who may never visit you again. Life is unpredictable. We may not see tomorrow. Fireworks glow as they flash. lasting only for a second, giving everything they have in those moments of brightness with no regrets. The short window of opportunity to view the sakura is probably the reason for its special status in Japan.

Years ago when I escorted some foreign travelers in Japan I was asked what Japanese people did with so many cherries they got from all those cherry trees. The fact is, there are two different species of cherry blossoms, and the sakura is not the fruit-bearing kind. Sakura cannot fill our stomachs. But sakura serve us like art, and fill a void in us, mentally and spiritually.

Once the blossoms are gone, sakura are reborn within a few days as green leafy trees, and the days dash into summer. I like this invigorating metamorphosis as well.

Chizuko Jaggard

More about Sakura at Wikipedia.

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