Japanese cherry blossom pervades Japanese art and literature. It forms an annual celebration that dates back to Nara and Heian Periods from between 710 and 1185 AD. It has now become a popular practice for people to picnic under the cherry blossom in springtime in a festival called Hanami, a festival which started in the royal courts and then spread first to the samurai clans and then to the general public afterward.
Cherry blossoms are very short-lived in nature. Trees of the popular sakura variety only blossom for one week, but during the time the blossom covers the entire tree to produce a cloud effect.
The cherry blossom represents the rebirth of life, hope, and also mortality. The idea of living fast and dying young is symbolized by some in cherry blossom because of its very short-lived nature – it is this that attracted the samurai philosophy and continued to exist in the Japanese military during the Second World War when kamikaze pilots would often paint cherry blossoms on their plans and carry small branches with them on flights. In fact, the very first kamikaze squadron was called Yamazakura, Japanese for wild cherry blossom.
Much of Japanese culture and literature speaks of the search for the perfect cherry blossom. It has come to represent not only the changing of the seasons from winter into spring, but it holds a mystical and magical power.
Cherry Blossom in the Arts.
Possibly one of the finest portrayals of cherry blossom in cinematic history is that from The Last Samurai, the movie which featured Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe. Ken Watanabe played a Samurai leader, Katsumoto, who was forever in search of the perfect cherry blossom.
“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”
But cherry blossom extends beyond the world of Japanese fiction. In H.M. Brown’s science fiction novel, The Impossible Man, a story of a store owner in New Jersey who is fascinated with Japanese pop culture. In the book he says;
“Such a special feeling these petals give to the human heart. Where one story ends, another begins. Such is the way of the Sakura tree. A tale spoke with each bloom.”
Kazuo Ishiguro, now the most famous of Japanese authors who is was educated in England, often brings to the imagination wonderful images of cherry blossom in his works, such as in A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World.
If you find yourself reading a novel or watching a movie set in Japan and there are scenes of cherry blossoms, you now know its significance. The Japanese cherry blossom symbolizes life, energy, passion, and death.
It is something to celebrate and rejoice in and for this reason, it has become an important feature of Japanese art and literature.
Katsumoto finally saw his perfect cherry blossom while laying fatally wounded on the battlefield, his final words were “Perfect. They are all perfect”.
Jake Roberts has studied Martial Arts for many years. It was here he discovered his passion for Japanese gardening after a former instructor advised him on the positive effect it can have on your chi. Justin currently works for Black Eagle Martial Arts Shop.