My desire to experience a cherry blossom (sakura) season was born when photographing the beautiful autumn colours during my first visit to Japan. At that time the sakura trees were standing bare, yet even then one could imagine the transformation when they bloomed. Although my personal preference is probably for the autumn hues, the visual spectacle of cherry blossoms in bloom is magnificent and the atmosphere created is, of course, unique to Japan.
Cherry blossom season starts in the south in tropical Okinawa around late January and moves gradually north to end in Hokkaido around May. Being a natural phenomena, the season is naturally dependent on weather conditions, hence the interest at this time of year on news reports and websites tracking the appearance of the fragile and delicate blooms.
The viewing season is short – perhaps two weeks or less and it would seem that this symbolic reminder of the cycle of life is what has most contributed to the sakura’s place in the Japanese psyche. Life is temporary and each year the sakura provides a reminder to use our time well and an opportunity to celebrate the gift of life.
When discussing the sakura season with Japanese people, it becomes apparent that many hold special memories of their sakura experiences. I recall asking a Japanese friend what sakura meant to her and she recalled a day in Tokyo where she and her boyfriend were cycling under sakura trees as the petals gently fell to the ground. What was most impressive about the telling of her story was that she was transported back to that moment in time – such is the power of sakura.
It is now that time of year around Japan’s major population centres in central Honshu when new memories will be formed and what better time to share images from the last sakura season. In this and successive posts, I intend to share a series of images depicting different themes of how cherry blossoms present.
For this initial post I have chosen to simply focus on their delicate beauty and invite viewers to remember similar views or imagine being there. My images are drawn from magnificent gardens found within four of Kyoto’s many temples and shrines. The first nine images are scenes from the gardens within the Heian Shrine, which, in my opinion, had the most visually impressive sakura. The peace and tranquility of these gardens was interrupted only by the frequent sighs of appreciation from those savouring the spectacle.
These are followed by three images (pics 10 to 12) from Ryoanji, one of my favourite places in Kyoto, with pic 12 being a particular favourite, where the solitary sakura dominates the landscape. Ninnaji is close to Ryoanji and given that a television station was photographing the blooms on this day, perhaps these images (pics 13 and 14) were indeed taken at the peak time. Understandably, but unfortunately, the trees could only be viewed from walkways and one was denied the pleasure of walking through the tunnels of overhanging branches shown at pic 14.
The final shots (pics 15 and 16) taken at Taizo-in present two quite different views. Whereas pic 16 shows that a lone cherry blossom tree can command attention even within a typically beautiful Japanese garden; pic 15, where sakura blossoms have filled the hollows in the karesansui (Japanese dry garden) is fittingly symbolic of the season.
(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)