A disastrous earthquake and tsunami followed by a nuclear threat has left Japan in shocked and sombre mood. But Mother Nature has stepped in to bring a little serenity to the troubled nation. It’s Cherry Blossom time again in Japan. “Sakura or the cherry blossoms cannot come at a more perfect time than this,” my Japanese friend Takura wrote in an email.
The cherry blossom viewing season marks the dawn of the spring and is normally among the most anticipated announcements in Japan. “We usually go out to parks and every inch of outdoor space in Japan is full of people during the Sakura blooming. But this year, Sakura just reminds us of the nature of life; extreme beauty and quick death,” my friend who is also a Buddhist said.
Most of the public areas like parks and sidewalks in Japan are full of cherry trees. So it would be a treat to for those who visit Japan during this period. The trees come into full bloom within about one week after the appearance of the first blossoms. A week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms fall from the trees. The flowering season starts in end March in the south of Japan and moves north until May. Takura who has enjoyed previous Sakura seasons said that when the blossoms fall, it is like rain from a pink cloud. The ground is completely covered by the fallen petals providing a carpet to walk on.
While much attention is focused on the blossoms, the trees themselves have a unique character of their own. These old sentinels stand like philosophers and poets from ancient times.
This year’s Sakura blooming was announced on Monday, March 28 by the Japanese Meteorological Agency. Japan designates certain Sakura trees for monitoring across the country, and considers a region to be in bloom when at least five or six flowers can be counted on the trees. When 80 percent of the trees' flowers have opened, an area is officially designated as in "full bloom". The blooming time of cherry trees differs from year to year depending on the weather and Japan says this season started six days later than it did last year in Tokyo. Flowers in regions hit hardest by the tsunami are projected to make their appearance in early- to mid-April according to Japanese news reports.
Cherry blossom viewing is a tradition that started centuries ago in Japan. It is known as Hanami in Japanese meaning "flower viewing" and involves picnicking under the "Sakura" trees. “We are not yet talking about cherry blossoms this year due to massive disasters and nuclear problems, which still occupy our daily lives. However, we hope we can enjoy the Sakura season soon,” said Eiko, another Japanese friend living in Kanayama.
A cherry blossom is the flower of the Japanese flowering Cherry Tree known as Sakura. There are several species of cherry trees. In Sri Lanka, the Botanical Gardens of Hakgala once tried to grow them. Director General of the Department of Botanical Gardens Dr. Siril Wijesundara recalled that the Hakgala Gardens was presented a few cherry plants in 1980. The botanists tried to nurture the unique trees, but they survived only for two years.
A symbol of Japan, even during World War II, the cherry blossom was used to motivate the Japanese people. One can only hope that this gift given by Mother Nature to this nation helps them at this time of need too.