Spring sends its echo into the Japanese soul – and not only into his – through the tenderness of cherry blossoms which, as a symbol of ephemeral life, sprout, bloom and helplessly fall down to the ground in just several days. But as long as they are in full bloom, they enjoy the attributes of the supreme beauty. It is what I felt about them on my way from Ōsaka to Kyōto over a whole week. For their sake I would leave the campus and make for the former Imperial Capital. I heartily admired the gorgeous spectacle of the cherry trees in bloom along the road and then I would stop at a shrine in order to leisurely fill my heart with their splendor.
The custom of viewing sakura – Hana-mi – originates in a religious ritual associated with agriculture. In olden days, Japanese did not understand how trees could suddenly sprout buds and leaves although they had looked lifeless over the winter time; the phenomenon seemed to them a miracle of the kami. Thence, they came to believe that the flowers they saw stood for deities who were living in those trees and were to bring them rich crops. Hana-mi would start with strolls in the forests and parks, where they would appraise the number of flowers in blossom and pray for heavy crop. The custom of drinking, eating and having a relaxed walk under the trees in bloom comes from that of celebrating the deities through offerings.
Japanese would gather (and there are places where they are still gathering) under a cherry tree in bloom to enjoy that fairy-like atmosphere sometimes pervaded by the three-stringed shamisen. TV channels broadcast the cherry “front” every evening and when the weather conditions bring about its change, all the mass-media are on the alert. At the beginning of March the “front” of cherry blossoms invades the southern part of the archipelago and then advances towards the north, until the middle of May. The gorgeous flowers belong to the vibrations of the Japanese soul that strongly thrills with joy in front of the beauties of Mother Nature.
Yasurai-matsuri takes place at Imamiya-jinja in Kyōto on the second Sunday of April and opens the series of observances dedicated to preventing the destructive epidemics that menace both people and harvest. Folk belief holds it that music and dance can placate the angry petrels flying above Kyōto with cherry blossoms in their beaks, ready to spread pestilence, whilst the falling petals stand for the death of nature and the ephemeral character of life. During the festival, men and boys dressed in black and red demon costumes and wearing hats decked with flowers jump and dance to the rhythm of drums and flutes in the precincts of the shrine and in the streets, especially at crossings. The yasurai bana (“wavering flowers”) shouts express the ardent wish that the petals on the ground should not carry epidemics
The energy of the participants looks really catching, but etiquette prevents it from meddling. However, in imitation of others, I took shelter under one of the huge umbrellas in the precincts, being confident that I will not fall ill throughout the year thanks to the flowers on the umbrella that symbolize the return to life of Nature, with all her noble and rich gifts of a divine origin
Scrisoare către Japonia p. 17-19
Editura Enciclopedică, 2011
Photos: ©Angela Hondru