Last weekend i was in DC, but missed the Cherry Blossom festival. There were still a few pink shiners around town, but for the most part they were gone. And thats the nature of the cherry blossom, it flowers for a few days, then its poofed. As you probably know, the cherry trees were a gift from Japan to the US in 1912 to symbolize friendship between the two countries.
Cherry blossoms carry great cultural significance in Japan. Hanami is the name of the celebration of the blossoming of these trees, when the people of Japan go out for no other purpose than to enjoy the sight of these trees in bloom. If you've read the previous musings on Japan, you can see where this is going. The Hanami is another aspect of Japanese culture that exemplifies the celebration of the moment over the eternal, rebirth over extended life, and the certainty of change. One might say it's finding the eternal within a moment. That beauty is found and celebrated in the short flowering of the blossoms is characteristic of Japanese thought, where there's a cultural recognition that a moment may give rise to a new Era or the destruction of a foreign fleet of invaders. So, is it the beauty of the blossoms that is celebrated, or is it their transience? There are many beautiful flowers in Japan. I think without a doubt it is the transience that is celebrated, and its not a leap to think of the blossoms as the visual equivalent of haiku, as they are both celebrations of the moment and the ephemeral. In the image below, so central to the psyche of Japan, we see celebrated the moment in two of its three aspects; about to pass, and pregnant.
i love that the Japanese 100 Yen coin has on one side a depiction of cherry blossoms. Isn't money the perfect vehicle for transience?
It probably isn't polite to mention that many kamikaze pilots would have painted on their planes imagery of cherry blossoms, but its not irrelevant, either.
Since i'm in this discussion about the place of the moment in Japanese culture, its hard not to mention their attitude toward the camera and the snapshot. It doesn't matter where you are, if you live in an interesting enough place that is subject to bus loads of Japanese tourists, say in Paris or Rome, you've seen them pull up, unload the tourists, tourists zoom out and take group pictures, get back into the bus, and pull out to the next destination. For some reason i thought this happened only in Europe, after having traveled half the world, but when i went to Japan i saw it to the nth degree. The big difference i noticed between the way most tourists photograph a tourist spot and the way the Japanese go about it is the importance the Japanese place on placing themselves in the picture, as opposed to simply taking a picture of the attraction and cutting out the people as i would do. i like to think of this phenomenon as related in its psychology to that of the Rising Sun. Japan is the "Land of the Rising Sun", as one can see in its flag, but this description is interesting with respect to the displacement it conjures. For whom is it the land of the rising sun? If you are in Japan, an island floating in the sea, and you are on the east coast standing on a beach early morning, you will see the sun rising in the east, but you will not yourself experience a rising; you are separated from it by perception, and will experience only the sun rising. If you are in China (Korea), however, the sun rises over a land to the east, and so this land may be witnessed as a land of the rising sun. This displacement is central to the Japanese psyche, and so reinforces the notion i mentioned in an earlier musing of the Japanese aversion to "center", and shows that even where you might think they have accepted a notion of center, as in their flag, within itself one finds it is in fact a center removed. Thus the tourist, and pictures of themselves.