Sakura, or cherry blossom, that most beautiful flower, one of the first of spring. In Japan the blooms are tracked with online maps so people know exactly when and where they’ll be blooming and can plan their picnics accordingly. I need to say that again, online maps to chart where the sakura are in bloom. Amazing! Don’t you think?
The tradition of picnicking under the trees is called Hanami.
You see cherry blossoms over and over in Japanese design. And especially in textiles, they’re everywhere; from perfectly rendered, realistic images to blurred abstracted suggestions.
[Two meisen silks.]
Because sakura are so short lived, they also remind us that nothing is permanent and that the only certainty we have is that things will change.
James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art at the Freer Gallery in Washington DC. explains in an NPR story: “The blossoms are heavy, and they fall to the ground soon after they bloom. Japanese poets from early on took this as analogous to the ephemerality of life. This blended with a strong Buddhist notion of transience: things are passing, nothing is permanent.'” [A cherry blossom, kimono silk blouse.]
Originally, in the 8th century, Hanami was celebrated by viewing plum trees. But by the 9th century, it had switched to cherry trees.
[Two silks, one with larger flowers and the other with tiny ones. Ume or sakura?]
There have been questions about the appropriateness of celebrating hanami after the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan.
The Japanese word, “hakanasa” may answer that question. As explained in another NPR story, hakanasa describes the poignant fact that cherry blossoms, like life and beauty, are short lived and that nature produces tsunamis as well as spring blossoms.
The story quotes Maujio Shimozaki, who says, “I think beauty and pain exist together and can’t be separated. When you look at the cherry blossoms, there’s hakanasa in their beauty.”