Look up. A clear blue sky peeks from behind freckled specks of pink and populous white pedals of a Cherry Blossom tree. Floral branches stretch toward heaven as others hover just above the head of an admirer who ogles in awe at its muted elegance.
Look again, and the alluring gentility you once marveled at, ghostly flowers sprawling from dark branches stemming from an even darker bark, has descended to the earth – an end to an era that brought joy to those who bore witness to it. Cherry Blossoms are a sign of spring; a symbol of life’s delicacy; a remnant of a people, a country and a history.
In Japan, people gather annually to celebrate and partake in ceremony for these fleeting beauties, but when one Japanese-American anthropologist gleaned a deeper meaning from Japan’s most revered flower, she discovered the magnitude of its influence: “the cherry blossom, or sakura, has been a symbol of ‘the cycle of life, death and rebirth, on the one hand, and of productive and reproductive powers, on the other’ throughout the history of Japan. The trees have been used as symbols for everything from predicting successful harvests of rice to giving the World War II kamikaze pilots courage for their one-way missions.” Read more.
Gifted to the United States in Washington, D.C. in 1912, and again in 1965, each time with more than 3,000 trees, D.C. is one of the many places the cherry blossoms are celebrated around the world, including South Korea. My first time seeing a Cherry Blossom tree was just one year ago. I didn’t know what I was looking at, but I knew it was something special. I hadn’t realized, until after my park visit where a pathway was lined with Cherry Blossoms, and on my way to Jinhae – South Korea’s most popular Cherry Blossom Festival – that I’d finally seen one for myself.
But seeing the Cherry Blossoms reminded me of Korea’s own history – a time of Japanese rule from 1910-1945. I assumed the trees in Korea were residuals of war and “forced occupancy,” leaving me to feel torn about its pretty perennial presence. My feeling was genuine, but my thinking was a common mistake. Although Japan is most famous for its Cherry Blossoms, and, indeed, planted trees in controversial places in Korea like Seoul’s Gyeonbokgung Palace and Jinhae, Korea has its own Cherry Blossom trees throughout the country, indigenous to the land; this deepened my appreciation for them – without feeling conflicted.
So if you blinked and those strawberry swirl pedals with the chocolate trunk turned to green leaves masked as ordinary trees, be prepared next time they’re in bloom. Cherry Blossom Festivals are celebrated around the world in the beginning of spring, usually early April. Make your plans and mark your calendars because the exquisite foliage of such fleeting beauties known as Cherry Blossoms appears for a short moment in time but once a year.