|Cherry Blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Image by jaci.sabbathi.
One of the greatest times to be in Japan is springtime when the sakura (cherry blossom) trees are in bloom. It’s an occasion to celebrate known as hanami, as family and friends gather at parks under cherry trees and revel in the blossoming of pink and white while enjoying food and drink.
With the blooming period lasting as little as a week, a forecast announces peak moments to witness the beautiful spectacle before it flutters to the ground. To further highlight the importance of hanami, an ancient Shinto-Buddhist philosophy known as mono no aware is linked to the short-lived cherry blossom and is seen as a wistful, melancholic reminder that even with the best things we come to appreciate in life, nothing is permanent.
The ephemeral seems to be striving for eternal, however in Washington, D.C. This year, Japan’s 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees sees its 100th anniversary, with much bravado from the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. As a token of friendship between the two nations, Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki offered the trees, which were planted along the Tidal Basin for people to enjoy the sprouting of cherry blossoms every spring without having to go to Japan. Since 1935, the D.C. has celebrated the occasion with spectacular festivities involving all sorts of Japanese cultural activities. To commemorate the centennial, the festival expands to five weeks to provide even more art, music, performances, and various other events. With its history of surviving displacement, wartime, and old age, the trees are certainly a testament to the effort to maintain close and friendly ties between the U.S. and Japan.
For those who can’t make it to D.C., Japan Society holds its own suite of events in Sakura – Spring Renews, Beauty Blooms. Master kabuki dancer, Bando Kotoji, leads several sakura-themed performances with live music accompaniment and will offer a workshop on the ancient art. As Cherry Blossoms Fall: Films & Scenes of Sakura, a 10-movie series captures mono no aware through sakura imagery and themes steeped in Edo-period romance and samurai swordplay. The series culminates with the annual all-day j-CATION festival, featuring numerous workshops, from origami and sweets to language lessons and shodo calligraphy; live bands; karaoke; a screening of Killing in Yoshiwara; a wild Japanese-style game show, with the grand prize of a roundtrip ticket to japan; and the hanami lounge with Japanese food and drinks to buy throughout the day.
If that's not enough to cure the sakura fever, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden holds their annual Sakura Matsuri at the end of April. For a digital fix of the powerful pink phenomenon, peek more than 2000 images in their Hanami Group on Flickr.