In late March and early April, cherry blossoms (sakura) are bursting all over central Japan. You can’t miss them. The pale pink buds stand out against leafless trees and green conifers. For the Japanese, the blossoms are one of the first signs of the spring season.
Taizo-In Temple, Kyoto
We recently returned from Japan and were fortunate to see the cherry blossoms at their peak. Each tree was beautiful. The varieties are countless ranging from the nearly white to the deepest pink.
We were amazed at the number of people who came out to photograph the trees. Parks, stroll gardens and the gardens at Buddhist temples were flooded. There were family photos, the couples with newborn babies, teenage couples, best friends, everyone had their photo opp. The professionals were there too with their tripods and long lenses. I was happy just taking a photo of the trees from afar. But then I noticed so many people going in for the close up shot of a single blossom. “Why not?” I thought and, soon, I was doing the same. Sakura mania was creeping in.
Our digital camera was bursting with sakura photos – the close-ups, those artistic shots like the one with a weeping cherry cascading in the foreground of a zen garden, pictures of other tourists photographing the sakura, pictures of us sitting and standing with the sakura blossoms around us.
One tradition, hanami viewing, is very popular. Hanami is the Japanese term for picnicking under blooming cherry trees. Families and friends spend hours together on a Saturday, for example, celebrating the arrival of sakura blossoms.
Blossom viewing isn’t just reserved for the daytime. Certain gardens hold evening viewing with uplights placed in strategic locations to show off the blossoming trees. We attended two evening illuminations. Each were beyond words.
The Japanese retailers don’t miss a beat. Sakura-themed clothing, purses, umbrellas, jewelry, stationery, ceramics and sweets inundate the stores. It’s hard not to get caught up in it.
We ate sakura soft serve ice cream, sakura-filled cream puffs, sakura chocolate croissants (mon dieu!), sakura-flavored moshi (a rice-based confection), and sipped sakura-flavored sake.
Shinjuku Garden, Tokyo
Then, in an instant, they’re gone. The cherry blossoms drop to the ground after a week or so of blooming. Fortunately, we hold memories and photos to remind us of the awe and beauty the Japanese cherry tree brings each spring.