Every spring the people of Japan watch eagerly for the blossoming of the cherry trees, sakura. The Japanese Weather Service offers a “sakura front” watch, complete with maps that trace the spreading pink from the island of Okinawa in the South to the island of Hokkaido in the North. Some people travel to enjoy flower viewing, “hanami,” at a spot away from home the way some Ohioans travel to New England for fall foliage. But most people simply enjoy the show in their own town or city. Friends and families gather under the canopy of a blossoming tree for picnics. As at any good party, food, drink and music abound. But there is a deeper cultural bond in Japan with these beautiful trees.
When the blossom of a cherry tree has reached its full bloom it lets go completely and cleanly from the tree. The samurai of Japan used the cherry blossom as a metaphor for the idea of embracing not only life but death. They were ready to die if need be, while appreciating life as a precious, though ephemeral, gift. Therefore the falling rain of cherry blossoms as they let go of life holds a poignant beauty.
Thanks to the generous spirit of the Japanese Association of Northeast Ohio (JANO), over one hundred Yoshino cherry trees bloom every spring in Cleveland Metroparks Brookside Reservation. The first trees were planted in the 1990s with others added since that time. Now you can enjoy a hanami picnic of your own beneath one of these trees as they put on their show. Or maybe just pick a spot under a tree, sit quietly by yourself and contemplate the brief, but beautiful, life of a cherry blossom.
JANO continues to plant trees in many spots around Northeast Ohio as part of their “Sakura for the Earth” project. The purpose of this project is two-fold; to improve the environment by planting trees that absorb CO2 and provide oxygen, and also to foster friendship with their neighbors here in Ohio.
My thanks go out to two lovely women of JANO, who not only share the beauty of sakura by their involvement in this project, but who also took time to share the culture of Japan with Naturalist Jill Collins, and myself. There are many ways to learn about the culture of another land or people, but the best way is face to face, sharing conversation and laughter. I have done my best to present what I learned from them in this post, but cannot come close to showing the enthusiasm and love of sakura traditions that shone on their faces and resonated in their voices. Thank you, Hikari and Chiaki!
Cleveland Metroparks is offering three “Cherry Tree Strolls” in April to follow the progression of the blooming of the trees in Brookside Reservation. Join Naturalist, Jill Collins, on one or all of these strolls, April 12, 19, and 26 at 10 a.m. to enjoy the beauty of the trees and learn more of the story of sakura.
Click here more information about the Cherry Tree Strolls.