Sakura season

In Japan, March is associated with Cherry Blossom (Sakura) season. Japanese people flock to gardens and parks to have picnics (hanami) under the cherry blossoms with their families, friends and co-workers. Company departments, student clubs and all other imaginable groups organise such gatherings either during work lunch break or at the weekend.

These picnics vary from simple sandwiches to the more popular tradition of barbecue with the smell of grilling spreading over the whole area. Of course such picnics would not be complete without copious amounts of alcohol (sake), be it rice wine (nihonshu) or beer. They can get pretty loud and unruly especially with middle aged men singing japanese bar (izakaya) songs or university students messing about after too much alcohol.

The Japanese have a saying associated with cherry blossom season, which is ‘mono no aware’, literally meaning ‘the pathos of things’. It refers to the ephemeral nature of cherry blossoms. They act as a reminder of the transient nature of all things especially life and the beauty linked to such short-lived moments and the gentle sadness at their passing.

Such recognition of the passage of time is found not only in the viewing of cherry blossoms but in all aspects of Japanese culture both traditional, such as haiku poetry or modern, such as Japanese tourist photography obsession. It all captures the fleeting moments and acts as a reminder of what has passed with a sense of nostalgia.

The value of cherry blossoms for the Japanese is greater than that of any other flower because of their transient nature. Just to give an example of how fleeting this season is, one single night of heavy rain or strong wind can completely strip off all the cherry blossoms off a tree. In general, cherry blossoms begin to fall within a week of their first appearance and the span of flowering is no longer than two to three weeks.

Thus it is not a value based on beauty but on the feeling created at a particular moment in time. Nevertheless the scene of literally thousands of small, delicate white or pale pink flowers on huge trees devoid of any foliage is breathtaking in itself especially in particular settings such as next to ancient temples or shrines, lining rivers or covering hilltops.