Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hanami escapades

The most eagerly awaited forecast of early spring in this beautiful archipelago, is the Japan Meteorological Agency's announcement of the "cherry blossom front." Armed with the JMA's prediction of when to expect blossoms in each area throughout the nation, millions of families, friends and office workers start planning where to go for the year's hanami, or cherry- blossom viewing.

Japanese people have a great affinity for cherry blossoms, which appeal most to their aesthetic taste. Indeed, the flowers have been the theme of songs and poems since time immemorial, and have played an important role in molding the Japanese character. I believe the Japanese are so proud of their cherry tree called sakura because of its status as uniquely Japanese. Sakura is quite different from the cherry trees of other countries. To differentiate it from the fruit-bearing varieties seen in many countries, it is called Japanese flowering cherry tree in English.

Sublime sakura
Nothing in nature can equal
Your sacred beauty
This I wrote in my poetry notebook the first time I saw sakura in full bloom. It was in spring of 1995, at Funagoya Park in Chikugo, Fukuoka Prefecture, and the area was enveloped in delicate pale pink. Ever since, my favorite outdoor activity in early spring is to stroll around small parks in town and enjoy the beautiful scenery sakura trees generously offer.

As the spring season comes around once again this year with the invisible passage of time, beautiful landscapes of sakura trees bursting into bloom all over the country set themselves against the brilliant spring skies. But we can also expect that in April the cherry blossoms, which bloom so vigorously and so fully, will fade just as quickly.

This year again, great turnouts are expected at the usual hanami spots and many people will flock to them to enjoy parties under beautiful sakura in bloom. I admit the flower-viewing party is a lovely custom that brings families, friends and co-workers together to marvel at the yearly renewal of nature.

But the two things that have always disturbed me, however, are the abuse of alcohol by many revelers, and the excessive amounts of trash left after these hanami escapades. It chills my heart to hear that the following morning finds beautiful spots covered with so much trash that sanitation workers are completely at a loss as to how to dispose of it all.

How can one explain the phenomenon of the trash left under the cherry trees, which contrasts so sharply with the beautiful flowers in full bloom?
Perhaps the answer lies in a contemplative poem by the Japanese poet and aristocrat, Ariwara no Narihira (825~880):
If there were no cherry blossoms
In this world,
Our hearts would be peaceful
In spring

By Joel Assogba Shukan ST: MARCH 27, 2009 (published in Japan Times ST)

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