It feels as if there were many weddings and birthday parties taking place these last few days for there were so much confetti strewn across the city. In fact, Tokyo (and all over Japan) is experiencing what the French call elegantly “La Fleuraison de Cerises”, better known here as the Cherry Blossoms. In private gardens and public parks, canopies of the white flowers dominate the landscape, and the city is blanketed with confetti of petals. Last year I was travelling back to California when the cherry blossoms happened, much to my regret; the only consolation was that upon my arrival at the San Jose airport, I spotted one or two trees with blossoming cherry trees, but let’s be real here, it ain’t the same.
Last week, when the entire city was wondering to each other back and forth when the colder weather would give in to the warmer climate to allow the buds to emerge, I asked myself what the obsession was with this particular natural phenomenon. After all, this concrete jungle of a city is graced by the presence of other equally stunning flowers throughout the year, like the pinkish red Azaleas. Last Tuesday, while walking past three trees in my area, I saw that none of the flowers was apparently ready to come out. I tried to imagine if I would be amazed by the sight of a full blossoming tree. Few days later, I saw a third of the tree was covered with flowers. Still I was not too overly impressed.
But suddenly yesterday, on a bright, sunny but cool Saturday, it all changed. Accompanied by two friends and equipped with a camera, I set out to the Kudanshita area, heading toward the complex of the notorious Yasakuni-jinja (the Yasakuni shrine is where the war deads are interred; an annual visit by the Japanese prime minister to honor those deads remained controversial for Japan’s role in World War II ). The walkway before and slightly after the two torii gates was lined mainly with food vendors. A vast area on one side, under huge pine trees punctuated by several Cherry blossoms, was occupied by picnickers on straw mats and people eating at tables provided by the food vendors. These picnics are so popular that it is difficult to secure an area for a group gathering. I learned that freshmen of many companies usually were sent early in the morning to block a certain area for their companies’ people.
As one traversed the second torii gate and through a wooden double gate, one is greeted by a shower of these confetti, blown by the wind from the canopies of sakura abound. It was a stunning view, indeed. I gathered that because I was so used in seeing the greens of the trees juxtaposed against a clear blue sky that a sight of these millions of white flowers against the same blue heavens presented quite a different view of the landscape. There are other flowering trees, but usually those flowers are but punctuations in a bed of greens, but with the Cherry Blossoms, the whiteness of the flower really overwhelms any hint of greens. For the next few days, these green leaves will yield to the powerful presence of the white flowers.
At the end of the visit to the shrine area, we crossed the street and walked along toward the more beautiful Chidorigafuchi area, a stretch of walkway along a moat. The entire area was like a queue line at Disneyland, with people lining up to see the coming attraction. Even the overpass, a pedestrian crossing bridge, was chockfull of couples in love and family members in cheerful mood. None of this long waiting dampened their enthusiasm in viewing the blossoms up closer. Again, the sight did not disappoint: the moat was lined with the trees in full blossom. The audience was treated with the sight of several boats rowing down below: perhaps young couples in love and old couples rowing down memory lane (I suppose the middle-age couples are busily tending their screaming children and rebellious teenagers). Petals fell onto the moat but with each row of the oars, they were pushed to the sides. I saw a boat rowed by a much abled man, cleaving into a body of water filled with the strewn petals, but then his boat got under a tree. As if punishing the rower, the tree’s branches overwhelmed him and for a moment, I saw him struggle to free himself from the clutching branches. He was more careful after that.
A Japanese friend asked me why foreigners always thought that the cherry blossoms were pink instead of white. I do believe the answer lies in the fact that the Japanese themselves depict these flowers as pink, as shown in travel brochures, billboards in the metro, and even fake cherry blossoms that decorate some stores and pachinko parlors; they are all white-centered with pink edges. From any distance, they are unmistakably pink.
There are still many different parts of the city I have yet to visit, but today’s viewing of my first ever Japanese Cherry Blossoms will be etched in my memory. Unfortunately, the weather forecast has called for a rain spell in the next three days, reducing the chance that any flowers will remain intact in the branches after the rain subsides.