Hanami in Light of Tragedy

Hanami (flower viewing) season is almost upon us, and for those who have experienced it, you may easily recall the idyllic cherry blossoms, flowing sake, the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) craze, and the echo of karaoke songs in the distance.

In any regular year, it may be easy to forget the solemn undercurrent beneath the good cheer of this centuries-old tradition. This year, however, the ephemeral cherry blossoms will serve as a good reminder of the transience and fragility of life, especially in light of the one-year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that occurred on March 11, 2011. The disaster left 16,000 dead and 30,000 injured. Prime Minister Naoto Kan called it “the toughest and most difficult crisis for Japan” since World War II.

Across Canada, crowds gathered on March 11th in memoriam of those affected by the devastating triple disaster. Toronto held a special memorial at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, JETAA Ottawa held a candlelight vigil, and other memorial services took place across the country. In Japan, the nation observed a moment of silence at 2:46pm local time, the exact minute the earthquake struck one year ago.

A few weeks from now, the country will collect once again, but this time it will be with the spirit of joy and a shaking-off of the somberness from its recent challenges. The cherry blossoms will burst from their pink and white buds, bringing with them a new air of freshness and resilience. People will gather in numbers to sit under the sakura (cherry trees) and imbibe themselves while waxing poetic about Japan’s famous emblem.

These days, many people belong to the group that values “dumplings over flowers” (hana yori dango), the old expression that suggests people attend hanami for its food and the party more than the contemplation on beauty and impermanence. This year, however, it may be difficult to forgo reflection and remembrance.

If you’re fortunate enough to experience hanami this year, I hope that you might strike a balance between both; that you’ll have a moment to remember and reflect, and another to laugh and indulge. Enjoy wisely, and remember affectionately.

by Jessie Bryant
Fujieda, Shizuoka-ken [2007-2010]

(Published March 14, 2012)