Apr 13, 2020

Glories of a Japanese Spring

Most people associate spring in Japan with Cherry (Sakura) blossoms but before the cherry blossoms drive people into a flower viewing frenzy at the end of March, there comes the Plum blossom season in February. According to me, it is the Plum or Ume blossoms that truly herald spring in Japan. With colors ranging from pristine white to light pink and almost reddish the Plums looks very pretty against the clear blue of a typical Japanese winter Sky. It is still cold in Japan when the plum blossoms start to appear and they do a marvelous job of adding color to the drab leafless winter landscape.

After the long cold Japan winter seeing the first plum blossoms always fills me with happiness. The cheerful flowers seem to tell me that the air might still have a nip in it, but spring and warmer days are not too far! They remind me of a line From Shelly’s poem If Winter comes, can spring be far behind!

The Beginning of March brings a new kind of excitement. The days are longer and warmer but this is not what makes people more cheerful. It is the anticipation of Sakura. Right from end of February, the newspapers and magazines start publishing region wise predictions about cherry blossoms – when they will first start blooming and when will they be in full bloom. The Japanese follow these reports with as much interest as some of us follow share prices. In Tokyo the cherry blossom season is officially declared open when the first blooms or Hatsu hana appear on an ancient cherry blossom tree at the Yasukuni Shrine.
Yasukuni shrine may be the official symbol but all of us here in Tokyo have our own personal Cherry blossoms spots that we keep our eyes peeled on to see if the blooms are out or not. The park near my apartment is lined with sakura trees and everyone right from the joggers streaking past, sedate old ladies walking their dogs, the salaryman quickly crossing the park on his way to a meeting or young mothers pushing strollers, would glance up in anticipation to see if the blooms are out yet. For a week or so I watched the buds grow bigger and bigger every day during my walks. And suddenly one day there they were, the first cherry blossom of the season. They sure did put a spring in our steps.

Cherry blossoms can be found all over the city but there are some areas in Tokyo like the Ueno park and the Meguro river front that are known for their cherry trees. All sorts of events are organized during this time and food stalls are put up everywhere. The cherry trees are lit up at night for night viewing or Yozakura. There are also Hanami or flower viewing parties that are usually loud and boisterous get togethers where friends and family gather under cherry trees and have a daylong picnic. It is a cheerful time, everyone is happy to leave the winter behind and looking forward to spring and summer ahead. 
This year, the pleasure of cherry blossoms was marred by the corona virus. By the times the blooms came out, the government had started asking people not to go to crowded places. Hanami parties were banned and all events canceled.
The Japanese however, were not the ones to let a mere virus dampen their pleasure of enjoying the cherry blossom season that lasts for a mere two weeks but is something that they wait for the entire year. A few did stay home, but they were the minority.

I chose to not go to the popular, crowded cherry blossom spots but I did have my local park where walks under the tree-lined paths gave me a lot of pleasure. 

Sometimes just viewing rows after rows of cherry blossom trees is just a bit much for the senses, but the park is very green with a lot of other trees and the white and light pink cherry trees popping out against the greenery made the perfect visual experience.

This selective viewing in peace was perhaps much better than being jostled by crowds and trying to take a picture of the trees without a thousand people photobombing it.
When the flowers appear on the cherry trees, there is not a single leaf on them. Perhaps this is what makes them so special, a drab brown tree with naked branches one day and the next day covered with delicate petals. But when tender young leaves start appearing on the sakura trees and the ground under them becomes a carpet of cherry blossom petals you know the cherry blossom season is about to end. 

The season lasts all of two-three weeks and reminds us of the impermanence of things. Whatever has come will go, to be replaced by something else – something different but perhaps equally beautiful.
Cherry blossoms may have gone, but soon the bright and happy summer flowers will arrive – The Japanese lavender, hydrangea, azaleas,sunflowers and so many more. I wait for them in anticipation of better times ahead so that we may all go out again and rejoice in nature!


  1. Amazing picturization via words and images. I can almost feel them. If I ever go to Japan, will try it in this season. The way you have described it in simple words every common person can understand and almost gets transported there.

    1. Thank you so much for reading. Spring is the best time to be in Japan. If not then try for Autumn. That is beautiful too !

  2. Wow! The post is sheer poetry :) Lovely pictures and I loved the way you had described the anticipation, the blooming itself and finally the end. The philosophical thought is so true too.
    And the part about the uncrowded viewing - cannot agree more! Everything has been reduced to photo frames and hashtags these days!
    Enjoyed reading this Ruchira!

  3. Thank yo so much for reading and the lovely comment

  4. Such a bright essay in such gloomy times. Yes, the impermanence of life is all around.



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