Cherry blossom season in Japan, a crazy couple of weeks where whatever the weather everyone, and I mean everyone, will take some time from their normally impenetrable work schedules to bathe in the beauty of the blossoms. This activity is called hanami, which literally translates as ‘see flowers’.
Parks like Yoyogi, which boast an impressive 600+ cherry trees, turn in festival areas, on the main weekend of the season you can barely see the ground for the ubiquitous blue leisure sheets and people. Copious amounts of alcohol is drunk, seasonal treats like cheery blossom flavoured mochi are eaten, and the lines to the bathroom are beyond belief.
There’s always some guy dressed in a silly pink spandex outfit, who will probably, despite the fact that it is really still quite cold, wade into the fountains to the cheering and enjoyment of the onlookers. A drunk salaryman might need to be wrestled, with surprising good humour from everyone involved, to the ground by policemen. The carefully prepared bins are overflowing with empty cherry blossom graphic covered beer cans. Some faces look fresh, whilst others show the unmistakable signs of fatigue, this may the second, third or sixth hanami drinking session in so many days.
I can’t exaggerate how much I love this tradition, I wish we did it back in the UK. There is so much value to taking time to recognize that winter is over, that summer is on the horizon, that for the first time in months you can enjoy sitting outside, although granted you might need several jumpers in a bad weather year like this one.
There are different, equally valid ways, of enjoying the blossoms, for many, perhaps most, hanami is simply a great excuse to party with your friends, for some it’s also a chance to enjoy the blossoms, maybe take some photos, but in additional to this it can be a chance to consider some other concepts.
The cherry blossom is traditionally used across all Japanese arts as a symbol of transience, a physical metaphor for the ephemeral nature of beauty and life. This concept is perfectly expressed by one of my favourite new words, Mono no Aware.
Mono no aware (もののあわれ), literally “the pathos of things”, and also translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness at their passing as well as a deeper awareness about this state being the reality of life.
The blossoms are so beautiful that words definitely fail me, the weather was rubbish this year, but on the one morning I woke up that the clouds has dispersed, I jumped up to see the blossoms in the sun. I caught the trees at their peak at Yasukuni Shrine, the bright morning light saturating the white and pink petals. I knew that next week they would be gone, and in that knowledge the beauty is magnified, this knowledge can be applied to everything we experience in life to the same effect. They were so beautiful that I cried a little, I don’t mean figuratively, I literally couldn’t deal.