It was the right song for the occasion: Duo Sokyo ended a brief concert marking the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of more than 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a symbol of friendship, with the traditional Japanese folksong that is probably best-known in the west, “Sakura,” or “Cherry Blossom.”
Duo Sokyo, Yoko Hiraoka playing the koto, a traditional harp-like instrument, and David Wheeler playing the shakuhachi, bamboo flute, were part of the celebration held at the Cherry Hills home of Consul General Ikuhiko Ono and his charming, elegant wife Eiko. Continue reading →
Cherry blossoms at the Japanese Imperial Palace moat in Tokyo (photo Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons)
When I was a kid in Japan, my family would make the requisite trek out every spring to see the cherry trees, or sakura, blooming at places like the Imperial Palace (above) or Ueno Park, which is better known the rest of the year for a bustling train station and crowded market with smelly fish vendors. Sakura-viewing is such a historically significant cultural event in Japan that it has its own name: Hanami, or “flower-viewing.”
People — individuals, couples in love, entire families — stroll parks and avenues for Hanami and marvel at the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms, which bloom and then fall too soon as everyone picnics beneath the lovely pink cascade.
From the woodblock master Hiroshige's series, "36 Views of Mount Fuji" (Public domain)
The country feels so strongly about its precious sakura, that in 1912 Japan made a gift of friendship of 3,000 cherry trees to the United States. They were planted in Washington D.C., around the Tidal Basin (near the Jefferson Memorial), East Potomac Park and around the Washington Monument.
Those trees have become a springtime ritual for Americans as well, a popular seasonal tourist attraction. There’s a National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington that runs from March 20-April 27 this year, with events throughout the month, as well as lots of “hanami,” except we call it “bloom watching.”
When my family moved Stateside in the 1960s and lived in northern Virginia, we would visit D.C. every spring to enjoy the sakura there. Continue reading →
No doubt about it, the springtime blooming of sakura, or cherry blossoms, in Japan is one reason the country is special. The Japanese treat the season with wonder, with weather forecasts about the optimal blooming days and following the cherry blossoms from the warmer southern climate all the way up to Hokkaido, the northernmost island, where the sakura bloom late.
The Japanese even have a name for cherry-blossom viewing parties and picnics, “hanami,” when entire families might sit under the falling flowers to enjoy the fleeting beauty of nature. In this video, some of the parks packed with hanami-enjoying folks look like the crowds on a typical August day at Coney Island beach in New York City.
I had to share this video, created by someone calling himself “James T Kirk” on Vimeo. It was posted by Alexandre Gervais, a Japanophile who seems to find lots of cool videos of Japan and shoots some nice photos. I’ve added him to my list of websites that cover Japan….