[this post was originally written in 2011 just after the Fukushima disaster, updated here in certain senses.]
Here in Shimoda, along the southern coast of Japan about three hours south of Tokyo, we’re still a ways from spring, but we’re still on the verge of the most beautiful of seasons: that of the cherry blossom.
Though it is only February, this coming weekend marks the first real blossom-viewing weekend for us in Shimoda. We are blessed here to be home to the early-blooming variety of blossom called variously “mountain cherry” or “Kawazu cherry,” which blooms in February instead of April. This weekend, given the warm weather, will bring out the first large scale blooming in parks and along water ways, and will be the first of maybe three weekends where we call friends, meet in large groups of those we see regularly and those we don’t see often, and drink and tell stories and gaze at the flowers.
From all these trees
in salads, soups, everywhere
cherry blossoms fall
I like the image of this haiku, of blossoms falling into your soup or salad. Basho’s words, written 320-odd years ago, reveal a very modern sensitivity. With my friends it is much more often a glass of sake or beer that gets hit, but this is no less a pleasant experience. I get the feeling Basho would have approved.
The oak tree stands
noble on the hill even in
cherry blossom time
The image I see here is stoicism, a trait many people in Japan have to exercise regularly. The oak tree, long a symbol of strength and longevity, is also now a symbol of the Japanese person up in Fukushima, Miyage or Ibaraki, who has been uprooted, shaken to the core, and now, in the brightest of seasons, must stand stoic and deal with that which nature has wreaked.
No blossoms and no moon,
and he is drinking sake
This is a sad one. In a time of catastrophe, how can you see the beauty of a flower when your friends or family may be gone? How can you appreciate a new season when you can’t even imagine what the next day will bring. Those people now forced to live in refugee centers, surrounded by others, crowded together,.. yet some of them, irreversibly alone.
The cherry blossom is a symbol of beauty in Japan, particularly because of its frailty and ephemeral quality; it only lasts a few short days before it is gone. In this season of change, the concepts of ephemeral and poetic cherry blossoms and the people of Japan are tied tightly together. This season, let friends gather and laugh and appreciate the cherry blossoms,… and a moment later grow quiet.