NIS Stories

Under the Cherry Blossoms: Cultural and Spiritual Meaning of Sakura

sakura“If there were no more cherry blossoms in the world, the spirit of spring would be more peaceful.”

This poem by the Heian-period poet Narihira Ariwara shows that the love of cherry blossoms has remained unchanged for more than 1,000 years. It feels tranquil and peaceful when cherry blossom petals flutter in the mild sunlight. But why does Narihira suggest that spring would be peaceful WITHOUT cherry blossoms? That is because the longing and excitement for the blossoming of the cherry trees make people rather uneasy and unsettled...that is just how much Japanese people love cherry blossoms. Have you heard of the “Cherry Blossom Front”? Just like weather fronts, the Cherry Blossom Front moves across Japan. The Japan Meteorological Agency even predicts the opening of the cherry blossom season and reports regularly as a part of the weather news. As a result, people start looking forward to making Hanami plans. It is this unique culture of Japan where you can see how cherry blossoms make people peaceful yet unsettled at the same time.

 

Why do Japanese people love cherry blossoms?

There are many reasons why the Japanese love cherry blossoms so much. The beauty of cherry blossoms in full bloom is, of course, one of the most important reasons. But another important reason is that cherry blossoms are the flowers that herald the arrival of spring. Cherry blossoms symbolize the end of the cold winter and the beginning of new life. The months of March and April also mark a special season for Japanese people, as it is the time of celebrating life's milestones, such as graduations, enrollments, transfers, and farewells. Many of these milestones usher in the beginning of a new life.

It is also said that Japanese people like cherry blossoms because it is tied to their spirituality. Even after enduring the harsh cold of winter and waiting so long for the cherry blossoms to finally bloom, they fall about two weeks after they begin. The transience of the cherry blossoms coincides with the Buddhist sense of impermanence that nothing in this world is eternal and unchanging. The beauty and grace of the blossoms, which quietly fall without showing their disfigurement as they decay, is also in harmony with the spirit of Bushido, the way of valuing the moment when the blossoms fall.

 

The Tree Where God Dwells

The word "sakura" is said to mean "kura" of the "sa" god (the god's pedestal). This is the god of the mountains and rice paddies. It is said that the god returns to the mountains for the winter and comes back to the village and dwells in the cherry tree, causing the buds of the cherry blossoms to swell and eventually bloom. So, in other words, this is the tree where the god dwells.

Ancient Japanese used the blooming of cherry blossoms as an indicator for agriculture, and even today, there are cherry trees called "sowing cherry blossoms" or "planting cherry trees” for rice planting all over Japan. For people in those days, when there were no calendars or thermometers, the blooming of cherry trees was a sign of Spring and a sign from the gods that the agricultural work was about to begin.

People gathered under the god-dwelling cherry trees with feasts and sake to pray for a good harvest. Thus, the tradition of the “Hanami Party” was born. The Corona pandemic suspended many Hanami parties, yet it remains meaningful to gather under the cherry trees and drink sake.

 

Viewing Cherry Blossoms

The cherry blossom season will soon be upon us again this year. This year's estimated bloom date is around March 22, and the full bloom will be around March 30. You can see famous cherry blossom viewing spots near Nagoya here and other places, but here are some cherry blossom viewing spots close to NIS:

Shirotsuchi Park and Shirasawa Valley (Moriyama-ku, Nagoya) 
Cherry blossoms cover a small park by the river with a suspension bridge. The view of the full bloom cherry blossoms from the window of the Yurito Line running next to the park is spectacular.

Mt. Togoku Fruit Park (Moriyama-ku, Nagoya)
It is famous for its weeping cherry blossoms, whose bright pink blossoms hang down like a waterfall.

Suidomichi Walkway (Kasugai-city)
The rows of cherry trees that stand on both sides of the 2-kilometer promenade create a magnificent tunnel of cherry blossoms.

Kanare River Walkway (Meito-ku, Nagoya)
A nearly 2-kilometer promenade is maintained under the cherry trees lining the Kanare River, allowing visitors to take a leisurely stroll.

Local Parks
There are also local parks where families can enjoy cherry blossom viewings, such as Shinrin Park (Owariasahi-city), Shiroyama Park (Owariasahi-city), Obata Ryokuchi Park (Moriyama-ku, Nagoya), and Ochiai Park (Kasugai-city).

NIS Playground
Do you know where the very best spots for viewing cherry blossoms are at NIS? One is definitely from the stairs leading to the 2nd floor of the Fieldhouse, overlooking the beautiful cherry trees that stand over the NIS playground. Alternatively, the window of the Head of School’s office on the second floor of the Raymond Building overlooks both the cherry blossoms on the playground and those on Barton Garten. If you ever go into the Head of School’s office (not a bad thing at NIS!), take a look!

And for more options further out but still in Aichi Prefecture, check this LINK to some of the most spectacular places to view cherry blossoms!