Be it historical paintings, art, films, and even pop-culture, the flower of the cherry-blossom–or ‘Sakura’–is one of the most “recognisably Japanese” images I can think of.
I’ve seen plays and films referencing its metaphorical impermanence, and drunk wine and eaten chocolates infused with (or inspired by) cherry blossom nectar.
Every day millions of people exchange and spend 100 yen coins across the country–in convenience stores, vending machines, bright supermarkets and smokey izakayas–which all have the image of the cherry blossom flower embossed on the back- and people barely seem to see it (though I suppose how you look at it is a toss-up).
There’s a long-standing love-story to be told about Japan and its tie with sakura, stemming from a complicated criss-crossing of socio-historical roots, but in contemporary times this feeling is represented by the observance of ‘Hanami’, the traditional practice of picnicking under blooming japanese cherry and ume trees.
Most sakura will only bloom once a year, with the Japanese cherry tree spending the majority of its life looking like a flowerless one – until, after a long and difficult winter – the spring arrives. The heat and light reinvigorates the sakura, causing them to bloom all at once (saku – 咲く) in a symphony of colour and sunshine.
It is a sight to behold thousands of blooming flowers of a variety of beautiful pastel pink hues above a sea of happy smiling friends and families–an overwhelmingly touching feeling of community.
When hanami season rolls around, the prospect of sakura is so eagerly anticipated that local and national television stations will begin to have regular reports on the status of cherry blossom across the country with weather forecast accuracy.
The wave of colour flows across the country, starting in the warmest areas, gradually making its way up to cooler climbs. Forecast to reach Hokkaido this weekend (at the end of April), most of the country has already had hanami season come and gone, leaving our region one of the last places in the country to experience the bloom.
Falling upon ‘golden week’–a much beloved clump of Japanese public holidays–you can bet that I, like thousands of Hokkaido natives will be flocking to the flowers for food and photos and a chance to slow down the pace of life and enjoy the company of friends and loved-ones.