Monday, April 09, 2012

"They're All Perfect"

It's time for Ohanami (cherry blosson viewing).  Oh Yes.

This is the special time of year when all of Japan gets buzzing for the chance to see and enjoy cherry trees, the symbolic tree of Japan.  EVERYONE posts their favorite blossom pics on their FB profile, they make a point to go and see them in all conditions, rain or shine, day or night, warm or cold, for the few short weeks that they are here.  The TV news channels have real-time monitors of where they are blooming and when "peak bloom" will occur.  It is an all-encompassing few weeks in Japan that is one of the best parts of living here.

For many, it is simply an excuse to head out with friends and/or co-workers for drining beers and sake.  For lovers, it is a romantic time (I vividly recall walking hand in hand with my wife in Ueno Park during the cherry blossom season in April 2000, deciding I wanted to marry her).

Why does Japan go so crazy about a bunch of trees??

Sakura as Mirrors of Ourselves
Most of the year, cherry trees are stark and lifeless.  They stick their fingers into the sky like ancient spider legs, poking at the sky in anger.  There is no color to them, and they look dead.  EXCEPT for the few weeks during the hanami season, when they explode in beautiful shades of pink and white, suspended in the air like fireworks.  It is hard to describe unless you have been to Japan to experience them.  Cherry trees are EVERYWHERE, so when they bloom, it is like God took his own special spray paint cans and colored the whole country in these warm, happy shades.  Our lives are not so different from this.  "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" (Henry David Thoreau).  Sometimes, however, we shine.  Everyone of us, in our own way, can be called beautiful sometimes.  It is this essential quality that makes us human --- the ability for each of us to have a unique beauty.  Sakura symbolize this and remind us to never judge, since the ugly barren tree today might tomorrow be the most beautiful tree of all.

One Moment In Time
We wait all year long for cherry blossom viewing time.  We suffer the long, cold winter, waiting for spring to finally arrive.  The best symbol of this is cherry blossom time, when we know in our hearts winter is over and we can look forward to the mild temperatures and active outdoors of spring and summer.  It is a time to rejoice.  Cherry blossoms only last for a few weeks at best.  Like us, they are fragile.  Strong winds, rain, or sudden cold patches can wipe them out.  Our lives are also short and subject to factors outside our control.  This reminds us to live in the moment and treasure it, never forgetting how precious and impermanent it is.

They Always Come Back
All too soon, the blossoms fall and are dispersed.  We see them fade away, washed away by rain or blown away by the wind, until there are none left.  Spring gives way to the hot summer, and the cicadas and rainy season.  After the fall leaves change color and we are back to winter.  Still, the cherry blossoms come back every year without fail.  We, too, will return.  Resurrection carries a specific religious meaning for many people, but it is simply spiritual to accept (and rejoice in) the fact that the soul is eternal, and our journey will continue after our physical body disappears.  This symbolism is in the cherry trees and is comforting.

They're All Perfect
In the movie "The Last Samurai", Katsumoto-san expresses the quintessential feeling of Japanese toward their beloved cherry trees:  "The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life."  In the cherr trees we search for perfection, the true perfection that only Nature can bring, and not the artifical perfection of human creation.  We look for the same perfection in ourselves.  Finally, upon his death, he concludes "Perfect, they're all...perfect".  So, too, we are all perfect and part of Perfection.  The essence of zen is here. Now. In this Moment.  Forever.  Perfect.  Pure.

QUICK!  Enjoy them while you can!!

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