Cherry Bomb! In & out Japan

By Sergio González | 10:15
Tsutsujigaoka Park in Tokyo

Tsutsujigaoka Park in Tokyo, one of the best spots to enjoy the cherry tree blossom

The Japanese  culture has always been in search of excellence in everything they do and has been understood as a fundamental way of life. The famous Bushido way for samurais is just one of the many expressions this code of beauty has in Japanese culture. Garden arrangement and flower symbology are others, as hard as learning how to set you in the right mood to fight with katanas. If a Japanese garden is to be considered perfect, it demands several generations of gardeners before it’s complete.

 Japanese cherry blossom is known as sakura and happens all along March till May, but can also be enjoyed in February in the subtropical Japanese island of Okinawa. Sakura triggers an awesome reaction in Japanese people’s lives, who start organizing their lives around the cherry blossom season.

It’s not clear when and how Hanami (flower viewing and enjoying) become part of Japanese culture but it can be traced back more than one thousand years and according to nowadays attitude it will remain one thousand more. Sakura is huge in Japan and many people enjoy picnics and BBQs under the trees because it marks the beginning of Spring and tells people they can leave their houses and enjoy the fresh air of Nature again.

Traditionally, Sakura is considered to have started during the Nara Period (8th century) from the religious custom of offering sake to the kami, spirits of the nature, as a thanksgiving gesture for granting spring once more. Sakura was also the moment when to start growing rice and after the long laboring sessions, Japanese people celebrated the planting with special meals and more sake, this time for themselves.

Tsurugajyo Castle

Lovely spring view of Tsurugajyo Castle in Northern Japan

As dynasties rose and fell, the capital was moved to Kyoto where Sakura and cherry blossom was honored, at first only by the Imperial Court, but later becoming very popular as samurais spread it in their long journeys all over the country. Poems were composed about cherry blossom and it’s often referred as a mataphor for life in Japanese mythology, extremely beautiful but ephemeral and delicate.

Anyway, there’s a Japanese saying that resembles the real attitude of the modern Japanese towards Sakuradumplings rather than flowers– since it is enjoyed as a food and drink festival, when Japanese loose a little bit and crowd every single park and venue competing for the best spot under the perfect cherry tree.

Some of these parties can run late until next day and it’s usually a no-go for the elder who instead of staying at home mourning to celebrate Ume, plum viewing, an older and much more quiet tradition which was the origin of Sakura. Metaphors aside, Ume’s offspring  have grown up liking to travel. You don’t have to make it to Japan, because Sakura is held in a bunch of countries; a cosmopolitan tradition usually started with a cherry tree present from the Japanese government as a token of goodwill.

Cherry blossom is a major event in Washington DC, involving the White House in many celebrations. The Nation Cherry Blossom Festival lasts for two weeks -starting the last Sunday of March- and last 2012 edition attracted more than 700,000 Americans who wanted to see Potomac River covered by cherry trees in all their blossom. 2013 end up April14th, so hurry up!

The origin of American Sakura festival was a gift of 3200 cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912 looking to improve their relationship. He gifted two main cherry tree types, Yoshino, that blooms into white flowers giving the Tidal Basin an above-the-clouds-look and Kwanzan, with pink blossoming, that makes the East Potomac Park as delicious as a cherry-pie cupcake.

Cherry blossom is everywhere in Washington DC

Cherry blossom is everywhere in Washington DC, covering every corner of Potomac River banks

Cherry blossom is also huge in Vancouver, where there are thousands of Somei-Yoshino trees scattered all along city’s parks. This variety has an early blooming and is one of the most appreciated in Japan because it has delicate fluffy white flowers. Another great spot in Canada are the river banks near Niagara Falls, literally covered by cherry flowers at the beginning of April.

Another cool place outside Japan where Sakaura is celebrated is Brazil, specifically in São Paulo and Curitiba cities, where a large community of several millions of Japanese descendants keep the tradition alive. The varieties that best grow in this Southern part of Brazil are from Okinawa –Yukiwari and Himalaya– and their blossom is powerful and in bright vivid colors, as it’s due for tropical flowers.

For a DIY Sakura, locate the nearest cherry tree in blossom and add a bottle of sake and some to-take-away sushi to make your picnic Japanese. If reading haikus or the hokku verses of poet master Kobayashi Issa is too much, sudokus are accepted as substitutes.

Photo credit: Kimon Berlin

Photo credit: Public Domain via Pixabay

Photo credit: yisris

 

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