Mad about Sakura

Spring is finally here. We are right in the middle of the cherry blossom season in Japan. Every March or April, thousands flock to sakura hotspots to catch a glimpse of possibly the most sensational blooms in a year. The Japanese gather in groups for cherry blossom viewings (known as Hanami). People take off from school, neighbours, friends, even corporates organise their own viewings.  However, the craze is not just skin deep, there is more beneath just the beauty of blooms. StraitsJourneys helps you understand the significance of Sakura to the Japanese and why it drives them crazy.

Symbol of new life

Cherry blossoms are connected to Japanese folk religions, a symbol of reproduction and new life. From as early as 710 -794, cherry trees were transplanted from the mountains to inhabited areas. The trees were deemed sacred, as people believed that they carry the souls of the mountain gods.  It was believed that the sakura petals formed the pathway for the mountain deity to visit and bless the rice fields, a critical crop for Japan.

Samurais identified with Sakura

Cherry blossoms exemplify the noble character of the “Japanese soul” — men who do not fear death. According to Constantine Vaporis, a history profession of University of Maryland, ritual suicide, a key part of the samurai’s Bushido code, the samurai “identified with the cherry blossom particularly because it fell at the moment of its greatest beauty, an ideal death.”

Military equipment were decorated with emblems of the cherry blossom, especially sword guards.

Commemorate Japanese soldiers who sacrificed for their nation

Cherry blossoms are planted at the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial specifically devoted to fallen soldiers since the Meiji period that the emperor visits occasionally. The cherry blossoms were supposed to console the souls of the soldiers.

Symbol of hope after the tsunami of March 11

In the 2012 Oscar-nominated short documentary “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom,” a Japanese man reflects on the strength of the cherry trees to live on past the devastation. “This was all killed by the tsunami,” he told film director Lucy Walker. “But now, a month later, there are new shoots. The plants are hanging in there, so us humans had better do it, too.”

For many Japanese, the cherry trees were a consoling reminder of renewal and hope, in face of so much death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

Seize the day

The short blooming period (around one week) is often compared to the transient nature of life. It reminds us that every beginning has an end and that life is beautiful yet very short.

Bring on the festivities

Who doesn’t celebrate in light of beauty after a long, dull winter? Locals bring on the food, songs and dance in this joyous celebration. Retailers are also a happy lot. Think sakura ice cream, sakura tea, confectionery, sakura everything! If you are a new employee in a corporate setting, score some brownie points by scouting for ideal viewing spots or better yet, stake out and reserve the spots for the team picnic.

If picnics in the daytime is not your thing, try the night view, also known as “yozakura”. Lanterns dot the trees to light the night, so it is quite spectacular!

So even if you are not normally crazy about flowers, we hope you take time to smell the sakura, to take in the breath of renewal, hope and joy.

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