Japan's Cherry Blossom Viewing Parties – The History of Chasing The Fleeting Beauty of Sakura

Japan's Cherry Blossom Viewing Parties – The History of Chasing The Fleeting Beauty of Sakura
Blue Sky imagery/Shutterstock
 

As a lecturer in Japanese studies, the first questions I ask my students is: “What sort of images come to mind when you think of Japan?” The answers usually include advanced technologies, red shrine gates, anime and great food – such as sushi, ramen and so on. They also often say a landscape awash in a gentle pink with sakura cherry blossom.

Each spring, cherry blossoms grace Japan with colour for a brief and beautiful moment. Such is the fleeting nature of this eagerly anticipated yearly phenomenon that most Japanese news channels cover the flowering. The Japan Meteorological Agency also issues a full-bloom forecast, which follows the blooming as it starts from the south and spreads across the north of Japan. This way no one misses out.

The full bloom of the cherry blossom happens from late March to April. It is a season of many changes in Japan – including graduation and entrance ceremonies to schools – so there are many reasons to celebrate. At this time, people take a moment to appreciate the brevity of spring and its beauty, with the blooming and falling of cherry blossom.

The impermanence of things

Once people know when the blooming will be in their area, it is custom to start organising picnic parties for hanami (flower viewing). This could be a picnic in a bento box with rice balls and fried chicken, or oden, which is a hotpot with white radish, fried tofu, fish cakes and eggs, cooked on a camping stove. People often have these with cans of beers or cups of sake (Japanese rice wine).

The custom of hanami has a long history, starting in the Nara period (710 to 794) with flower-viewings of plum blossoms. The fragrance of the plum flower indicates the arrival of spring, and it played an important role in court cultures in the Heian period (794-1185).

The plum flower was commonly used as a theme in poetry competitions in the court. This can be seen in the use of plum-blossom imagery in famous works such as The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (Lady Purple), which dates from the 11th century and has been heralded as the world’s first novel.

Along with plum, appreciation of sakura also grew in the Heian period in a form of poetry known as waka. Translating as “Japanese Song”, waka is arranged in five lines, of five/seven/five/seven/seven syllables. In Kokin-Waka-Shū, the first imperial anthology of Japanese poetry, there is a sustained focus on the beauty of the cherry blossom. For example, a poem by Ariwara no Narihira in the collection reads as follows:


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

If ours were a world
where blossoming cherry trees
were not to be found,
what tranquility would bless
The human heart in springtime!

In Narihira’s poem, rather than finding the blossoms peaceful, we are told it disrupts our tranquillity. This is the very idea of mono no aware, a sense of appreciating the brief “perishable beauty” of nature and human emotion. Then and now, the circulation and appreciation of images of cherry blossom seem to be strongly associated with this Japanese aesthetic.

Mono no aware translates as a “sensitivity to things”. According to historian Paul Varley, you can observe this aesthetic from one of the compilers of the Kokin-Waka-shū, the waka poet Ki no Tsurayuki in his preface. It is “the capacity to be moved by things, whether they are the beauties of nature or the feelings of people”.

This sense of appreciating nature – petals falling on the ground along with the change of people’s lives, the delightfulness and gentle excitement of it all – is closely connected with the perishing of the moment, and decay. With this comes the emotion of melancholy. As Ki no Tsurayuki puts it in his preface, we are “startled into thoughts on the brevity of life”.

Varieties of sakura

The current pervasive image of the landscape of Japanese cherry blossom is in a way constructed and has changed through history and culture. Pictures of cherry blossom often depict one type of blossom, somei-yoshino, which is faded pink with light petals.

There were many varieties of blossom before this, however, including regional variations. Across Japan, one very early type of blossom was mountain cherry blossom, yamazakura, which was often the focus of cherry blossom imagery, strongly associated with the mountain deity, and spiritual symbolism.

A Hanami flower-viewing party in Tokyo, Japan.
A Hanami flower-viewing party in Tokyo, Japan.
Travelpixs/Shutterstock

In contemporary Japan, however, somei-yoshino can be encountered throughout the country. This variety was cultivated during the late Edo period (1603-1868) by a gardener in Somei, Tokyo, who crossed two species to produce a blossom that was easy to plant and fast to grow. Somei-yoshino began to be planted across Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912), as part of a big push to plant flowers across the country.

About the AuthorThe Conversation

Nozomi Uematsu, Lecturer in Japanese Studies (Japanese and Comparative Literature), University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Marie T. Russell's Daily Inspiration

INNERSELF VOICES

What Does Our Authority Rest Upon?
Transitioning from Authoritarian "Outer" Authority to Spiritual "Inner" Authority
by Pierre Pradervand
For thousands of years, ever since mankind started settling in cities, we evolved in rigid,…
The Birthing of A New World Which Is Struggling to be Born
The Birthing of A New World Which Is Struggling to be Born
by Ervin Laszlo
Talk of fundamental change in the world around us is often met with skepticism. Change in society,…
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
by Peter Ruppert
We all experience positive and negative self-talk on a regular basis. Whether you realize it or…
Horoscope Current Week: April 19 - 25, 2021
Horoscope Current Week: April 19 - 25, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
If You’ve Contracted COVID: Healing and Moving Forward
If You’ve Contracted COVID: Healing and Moving Forward
by Stacee L. Reicherzer PhD
If you’ve contracted COVID, you not only had health problems that may have been life-threatening,…
Awakening to the Dream of the Earth and Loving the World
Awakening to the Dream of the Earth and Loving the World
by Bill Plotkin, Ph.D.
The most important question is not how to survive biodiversity loss, climate disruption, ecological…
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career 
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career
by Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D.
Even if your tolerance of ambiguity is lower, there are proven ways to build this important…
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
by Mary J. Cronin, Ph.D.
One approach that addresses the challenges families face today comes down to a familiar but often…

MOST READ

Is Your Bedroom Sacred?
Is Your Bedroom Sacred? Honoring Your Personal Sanctuary
by Jon Robertson
The bedroom is home to our prayers and dreams, our solitude and sexuality. In this inner sanctum,…
Age of Pisces to Age of Aquarius
Transitioning from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius
by Ray Grasse
The Age of Aries brought an awakening of the outwardly directed ego, but the more feminine Piscean…
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career 
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career
by Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D.
Even if your tolerance of ambiguity is lower, there are proven ways to build this important…
3 Ways Music Educators Can Help Students With Autism Develop Their Emotions
3 Ways Music Educators Can Help Students With Autism Develop Their Emotions
by Dawn R. Mitchell White, University of South Florida
Many children with autism struggle to find the words to express how they feel. But when it comes to…
Domestic Violence: Calls For Help Have Increased – But The Answers Haven't Gotten Any Easier
Domestic Violence: Calls For Help Have Increased – But The Answers Haven't Gotten Any Easier
by Tara N. Richards and Justin Nix, University of Nebraska Omaha
Experts expected the increase in domestic violence victims seeking help last year (2020). Victims…
At What Age Are People Usually Happiest? New Research Offers Surprising Clues
At What Age Are People Usually Happiest? New Research Offers Surprising Clues
by Clare Mehta, Emmanuel College
If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what would it be? Would you choose to be nine…
Viking DNA And The Pitfalls Of Genetic Ancestry Tests
Viking DNA and The Pitfalls of Genetic Ancestry Tests
by Anna Källén, Stockholm University and Daniel Strand, Uppsala University
According to recent estimates, over 26 million people from across the world have purchased a…
How Reactivating Traumatic Memories Could Reduce Their Impact
How Reactivating Traumatic Memories Could Reduce Their Impact
by Caitlin Clark, Texas AM
Researchers could be a step closer to finding a way to reduce the impact of traumatic memories,…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.