The sakura, or cherry blossom, is the flower most associated with Japan.
If you happen to be in Japan in March or April you get a sense of how ingrained sakura are in Japanese culture when every television news broadcast begins with the solemn report of how the wave of cherry blossom blooms is progressing from southern Okinawa to northern Hokkaido.
Not surprisingly, cherry blossoms have been celebrated by Japanese poets throughout the ages. Whatever I might write here about their beauty or emotional impact or ephemerality has undoubtedly been expressed better by those poets, so I am yielding the blog to them.
Look at that! and that!
all I can say of the blossoms
At Yoshino Mountain.(1)
In fair Yoshino
Blossoming in the mountains,
Were cherry flowers.
I thought they must be snow
But how mistaken I was.(2)
On the slope
Beneath the mountain peak
The cherries bloom—
Oh nearby mountain mist,
Do not suppress my view! (3)
Under a cherry tree,
Soup, salad, and all else
Are brought to us
Dressed in gay blossoms.(4)
Because I planted
A cherry tree at a house
That nobody visits,
I now use the cherry flowers
To beautify myself.(5)
Many things of the past
Are brought to my mind,
As I stand in the garden
Staring at a cherry tree.(6)
You cherry blossoms
Who this year for the first time
Have learned what spring is,
Do not learn from the others
What makes blossoms scatter.(7)
It is precisely because
The cherry blossoms scatter
That we prize them so;
That’s true, I know, it’s true,
It’s true all right, but still… (8)
The way the Japanese traditionally celebrate sakura blossoms is to get a group of friends or family together, spread a blanket under a blooming tree in a park, and then drink a lot of sake or beer. There probably aren’t any hashioki. Maybe the sakura hashioki are for people who are too shy to get drunk in public. Or maybe they’re a consolation for outdoor celebrations that are rained out.
(1) Teihitsu (Yasuhara Masaakira) in World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era 1600-1867, A History of Japanese Literature Volume 2 by Donald Keene. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, p. 42.
(2) Ko no Tomonori (Kokinshū). In Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, A History of Japanese Literature Volume 1 by Donald Keene. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999 p. 258.
(3) Oe no Masafusa. In One Hundred Leaves: A New Annotated Translation of the Hyakinin Isshu by Blue Flute (Frank Watson). New York: Blue Flute, 2012, p. 147.
(4)Bashō. In The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Stories by Nobuyuko Yuasa. London: Penguin Books, 1966, p. 41.
(5) Izumi Shikibu. In Seeds in the Heart, p. 296.
(6)Bashō. In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, p. 79.
(7) Ko No Tsurayuki (Kokinshū). In Seeds in the Heart, p. 261.
(8) Nagata Teiryū. In World Within Walls, p. 516.