Nine months ago I arrived in Tokyo. The day after arriving, I had an appointment with a real estate agent to help me search for a new home. The first property that was shown to me – the house where I actually now live – didn’t appeal to me, and I even told my husband there was no likelihood of me moving there. Days passed by, and as I was not finding any property I liked, I visited the house a couple of times more. The fourth time I asked the agent to show me house, having discarded more than thirty properties by this point and running against time, he told me I was not realizing something special that made this house luxurious. He walked me to the backyard and pointed to an old cherry tree planted in the neighbor’s patio. The tree was not even in “my property”, but having it close was good enough for the realtor’s enthusiastic voice to assure me that it would be a treasure once it bloomed. Enough said, on that same day we signed the contract to rent the place but only eight months later would I decipherer what he was trying to tell me.
I arrived in Tokyo during the autumn – two seasons before the spring – and since the moment I stepped onto Japanese soil I was repeatedly asked the same question: “if I had ever seen the blooming of the cherry trees”. The promising looks I received when I answered that I had not made me anticipate that something similar to first love was coming. My surprise grew when my kids’ school, seven months in advance, called for a meeting so we could start organizing the school’s most important event of the year: the cherry tree festival.
Winter finished by the end of February, and with it, the long wait for the most anticipated moment by the Japanese people: the blooming. Everything started to dress in a rose-color: the stores, the kimonos, the decorations, the cupcakes, and even Coca-Cola changed its label and Starbucks its cups to be in tune with the beautiful flowers. The TV news began to inform on the different festivals to take place, and the website of the meteorological institute became the most visited site in order to accurately know when the blooming was going to commence. People started planning trips to the most recommended locations to see the flower. Friends and families started to organize picnics under the cherry trees and soon all tickets for related events were sold out.
In the Japanese language there are unique words that have no translation to other languages and that convey series of feelings, situations and thoughts.
One of the most beautiful words I have learned is hanami; it describes the act of gazing at the cherry tree flowers and the feeling of wonder that their beauty creates. Japanese people profoundly admire this flower due to its similarity with life: beautiful but ephemeral. So ephemeral that it’s blooming lasts, with luck, two weeks, and during which the nation rejoices. During those few days no words are spoken more than hamani and sakura, the latter being the Japanese name for the cherry tree flower. Social media continuously updates information about the places where sakuras have bloomed. Reporters travelled the archipelago from north to south following the blooming path; all parks have thousands of enthusiastic observers gathered to appreciate in great detail each petal, each stem and each pistil of these flowers that represent beauty, simplicity and purity.
The Japanese, inebriated with joy, abandon their characteristic shyness and convert into more extroverted people, posing with their best garments by the trees, using the most sophisticated lenses for their already very expensive cameras, in order to get the best picture of the sakuras. Newly married couples take advantage to create beautiful wedding pictures, and colleagues in offices send the newest employee early in the morning to reserve a piece of land under a cherry tree, which by the end of the day will serve as the improvised company’s picnic place. Regardless of the title within the company, all sit shoeless on the ground and repeatedly cheer with sake to celebrate the most memorable season of the year.
Whenever it rains or is windy the sakuras start to fall, accelerating the end of their short life. This is another very meaningful moment: sakurafubuki, which means “cherry tree flower petals that fall like snowflakes”. An endless rain of petals falls from the sky and the ground is transformed into a splendid rose-color carpet. Everyone sits under the trees waiting for a petal to touch them, with such contact holding a meaning of good luck. Kids in the streets play with this magic rain and elderly people ask the universe for another spring.
Last year, during my first explorations of the city, I visited an old Buddhist temple, where out of curiosity I acquired an omikuji, a piece of paper that predicts the future. To obtain it, I deposited a coin in an urn and then shook a metallic container containing bamboo sticks that were each marked with a number. Randomly, one stick came out through a small opening in the container. I searched for its number in a wooden shelf and there I found my omikuji. The text could have not been more accurate: “once spring arrives, your fortune will bloom like the flowers in the trees, the moon in the dark sky will shine again and soon you will recognize the good luck in the clear sky”.
Now everything makes sense: my omikuji and the wise words of the real estate agent. Staring at the cherry tree’s blooming from my backyard is a treasure that will remind me, each spring, how fortunate I am, and how much I have bloomed since I arrived here. 🌸