Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Special Affinity

One of those golden days in Tokyo, with hints of an invigorating spring now blowing our way, no more than two weeks over the horizon. Just the time for a walk along the Kanda River, through Inokashira Park and on to Kichijôji. A good stretch of the legs and a chance to see in trees and river how the season is growing toward bloom.

And so I get a close-up look at the many cherry trees that make the Kanda something more than unremarkable, and give it that touch of splendor with the harmony of blossoms and water. But mid-March is too early for that sweet combination, branches all a shiver with buds still not ready to reveal their countless pink faces.

The Japanese have a special affinity with the cherry blossom, something that is all but ancient in their culture and tradition. These days the appreciation of spring and the cherry blossoms has taken on a slightly different form, but the recognition of these immemorial flowers is probably buried deep in the soul of all but a scant few Japanese.

From Japan’s earliest literature the cherry blossom has been endowed with a special character that resonates with human experience. It was not only poets who elevated the flower’s qualities, but warriors of the feudal age as well held the cherry blossom to be the perfect symbol of life and death. With its exquisite transience this fragile blossom mirrored the warrior’s likelihood of sudden death in battle. Here one moment, gone the next, or in the words of Macbeth, “Out, out brief candle, life is but a walking shadow…”

Turning to a modern expression of meaning in the spring blossoms, poet Tawara Machi’s 31 syllable tanka puts a different slant on it:

As if in this park

nothing at all has happened

the cherry blossoms

have bloomed, blossomed, scattered;

sakura sakura sakura…

Tawara’s cherry blossoms are seemingly indifferent to her personal concerns. And that is perhaps how very many young Japanese today look at the blossoms of spring. These days hana-mi (flower viewing) parties revolve around chug-a-lug drinking, karaoke and attention more to cell phones than overhead blossoms.

Times change, yet I continue to look for the lost.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America