Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cherry blossoms and fleeting beauty

The cherry trees in my town have suddenly exploded with fluffy, pale pink flowers. There is a dreamlike quality to these trees. From a distance, the clusters of blossoms look like cotton-candy clouds floating above the branches.

Although Vancouver has lots of beautiful cherry blossoms, most of us don’t spend much time thinking about them. We might look at a tree and say, “Wow, that’s pretty” and move on. But not here. Cherry blossoms are a national obsession in Japan.

The entire country is taking the arrival of the cherry blossoms very seriously. The nightly weather report includes a segment tracking the movement of the “cherry blossom front.” Pictures of cherry trees are splashed all over the front pages of newspapers.

Across Japan, crowds of people are flocking to parks and gardens for flower viewing parties (known as hanami). Wherever there’s a tree in full bloom, there’s a party happening underneath it. You just spread a plastic tarp on the ground below a cherry tree and binge on food and alcohol while celebrating the fleeting beauty of the fluttering blossoms above your head.

My first hanami party was filled with sweet melancholy. One of my Japanese co-workers tried to explain the significance of the delicate flowers using broken English. His words were all wrong but his meaning was clear -- the brief lives of the cherry blossoms are a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life.

When a shower of pastel petals floats down with every breeze, there is a gentle sadness in knowing the lives of the flowers will soon be over. But there is a beauty in the short-lived nature of the cherry blossoms too. It reminds us to appreciate life’s transitory moments.

The cherry blossoms are a perfect metaphor for my time in Japan. There are days when I am overcome by sadness knowing that I will have to leave this place in four short months. But it’s an enjoyable sadness. There is a beauty in being aware of the transience of my time here. Knowing that I will never be in this place experiencing the same things again has made me appreciate every single moment, just as the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms makes them that much more lovely.

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