“Sadder than blossoms swept off by the wind, a life torn away in the fullness of spring.” So spoke the warlord Asano Naganori moments before his death in 1701. The cherry blossom is revered in Japan and has been for centuries. It’s relevance is no mistake: generation after generation finds meaning in the tragically short and breathtakingly beautiful life of the cherry blossom.
Every spring, when the bees start to buzz and the blossoms start to blossom, people the world over gather in celebrating the magic of Hanami, or “flower viewing."
This custom of appreciating the transient beauty of the flower is centuries old in Japan. Cherry trees from all the way from Tokyo to the island of Okinawa become huge attractions for people to take in views and share a picnic. What started as a tradition amongst the elites and the samurai society of Japan has now become an event for all to partake in. When the chill of winter melts away, the cherry tree branches get all dolled up, decorating themselves with the blossoms of April. For 14 glorious days (give or take), the blossoms bask in the glow of sun and lanterns and camera flashes as several festivals take place. Then, quietly, the blossoms’ beauty quickly fades away into the air; a visit from an old friend that always ends too soon.
These festivals are Japanese traditions that bleed into several countries, reminding us to marvel at nature and appreciate beauty. These blossoms serve are symbols for our lives – how devastatingly short they are, how wildly passionate they can be.
In America, several locations where cherry trees grow are also venues for annual festivals. Seattle, San Francisco, even Brooklyn house the petal pink beauties. To the United States, the blossom can be seen as a symbol of unity, peace, and resilience. This is thanks to the history of The National Cherry Blossom Festival. In 1912, 3,000 cherry trees were successfully gifted to the United States with the help of renowned chemist Dr. Jokichi Takamine, who helped secure their survival in transport. When the trees were successfully gifted to the U.S., First Lady Helen Herron Taft and the Japanese Ambassador’s wife, Viscountess Chinda, planted the first two in West Potomac Park. Since then, the blossoms of Washington D.C. have been a sign of unity between the two countries, and Americans have been able to revere their beauty alongside the Japanese.
These festivals and their history teach us that we can share so much beauty, even in the short time we are here. So this year, when clouds start to dissipate and you slip into your sundress, take some time and appreciate the blossoms. They won’t be here for long, but we’re always glad they come.