The cherry blossom front has reached Shin Yokohama where the MANN+HUMMEL JAPAN office is located. Every year at the start of April, my colleagues and I go on a picnic in the nearest park.
It is really pleasurable to have food and drink under full bloom cherry trees. In this open and relaxing atmosphere, we talk naturally and feel closer to each other. We organize this kind of event aiming to enhance employee communication and team work but in fact, picnicking under cherry trees is the tradition in Japan.
We call the practice ‘Hanami’. ‘Sakura’, or cherry trees, are very special to the Japanese. I would like to explain why.
Hanami is deeply rooted in our history and culture. It is said the tradition dates back more than a century but it was limited to noble people in the Imperial Court. The custom widely spread among common people in the Edo period (1603-1868) when the Tokugawa shogunate government planted trees for the people. I can imagine Samurai warriors must have admired cherry blossoms like we do today.
In Tokyo, there are still some famous cherry blossom viewing spots from the Edo Period. Shinjuku Gyoen, a feudal Lord’s former residence, is one example. Today, it is open to the public and its hundreds of cherry trees of different kinds attract viewers from home and abroad. Located in the central part of Tokyo, the park now is surrounded by skyscrapers instead of castles but the combination of old and modern is still good. Sakura really blend with the landscape in Japan.
As well as the historical background, Sakura are connected to our life and seasonal events. Many people associate Sakura with the start of school in April. It is very impressive to see the cherry trees blooming on school grounds on your first day. People have not only hopes but also fears when they start a new life, but the moment we see Sakura our anxieties are blown away and we are filled with excitement. They have the special power to comfort us.
School and Sakura are inseparable as this interesting story explains: before the internet, universities and colleges in Tokyo sent telegrams with the results of the entrance examination to applicants living outside the city. The telegram message meaning the applicant was accepted was “cherry blossoms bloom.” While if the applicant was not accepted, the message was “cherry blossoms fall.” So you see, Sakura even share laughter and tears with students; that is why Sakura are considered a symbol of youth.
It is not too much to say that Sakura’s popularity owes much to the nature of Japan with its four distinct seasons. People yearn for the spring during the cold winter which is the time of perseverance. I like spring the best of all seasons as it is the time the flowers bloom. The students who study hard for the entrance examination and pass feel even happier with their hard work. Efforts are finally rewarded, bloom flowers and bear fruit.
Here is the truth: our life can be compared to the cycles of nature so we feel deep empathy with it. Take a look at the many art works such as poems or Haiku, music, and paintings by Japanese artists inspired by the four seasons.
I am grateful that I was born in a country of beautiful nature. Cherry blossom time is over in central Japan and the season is changing. Now it is the time for the new green shoots to grow and shine.