Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sakura brings hopes for Japan...

Japan was invincibly on top of my travel wish list for 2011. So I researched the regions of Japan, started reading about their culture, saw movies filmed in Japan, tried Japanese food and everything possible to entice myself. Finally, I was all set to be in Japan on March 26. I had planned to stay in ancient Buddhist temples, visit the alps, soak in the hot spring mountain villages, see beautiful shrines amidst Japanese gardens and spot geisha's. But after planning a very exciting trip, buying my tickets & booking accommodation - a merciless earthquake & tsunami on March 11 decided to shatter my plans & more importantly.....thousands of lives.

I wanted to be in Japan during March/April to see blooming cherry blossoms. In Japan blooming cherry trees are called "sakura". They are throughout Japan and have always been a very significant part of Japanese culture. The blooming of these delicate pink and white blossoms occurs around the end of March or beginning of April. Cherry flowers have short lives. They reach full bloom and fall within one week & this blossoming period is a very special time to be in Japan. Its triggers a nationwide celebration for the Japanese people and parties called "hanami" are organized to view the beauty of blossoming cherry trees throughout Japan.

During this week people gather in great numbers wherever the flowering trees are found. Thousands of people fill the parks to hold feasts under the flowering trees, and sometimes these parties go on until late at night. The hanami celebrations usually involve eating and drinking, and playing and listening music. Some special dishes are prepared and eaten at the occasion, like dango and bento, and it's common for sake to be drunk as part of the festivity.

As I write, the cherry trees have reached full bloom in Tokyo, Kyoto and several other regions in Honshu. This year's cherry blossom festivities will be overshadowed by the tremendous loss caused by the recent earthquake & tsunami. The 2011 blossoming period may not see hanami parties but it still holds special significance. The start of the sakura coincides with the onset of Japan's calendar and fiscal years, which means a new beginning for the Japanese people. Students attend the first day of the school year and new employees begin the first day on the job. This year, sakura will serve as a source of hope, resilience, optimism and motivation along Japan's road to recovery.

All through March Japan has been in my thoughts. Before the quake I was anxious for my trip and after the tragedy my thoughts have been with the people of Japan. My heart goes to those who lost their loved ones in the disaster & the brave workers at the nuclear plant. They sacrificed their health and safety to save the world. My desire to visit Japan and fondness for its people has only increased after reading about the humble way in which they have managed the calamity. I am hoping and praying everything will come to an end and hope Japan will recover and rebuild soon from the catastrophe.

“Sea, I’ll never forgive you in my life even if your waves touch my feet a million times” - A boy who lost his love in the tsunami