Hanami means to view the cherry blossoms and would be a frequently used word across Japan at the present time as people plan their hanami experiences before the fragile blossoms disappear for another year.
To limit the meaning of hanami to “viewing” is somewhat incomplete, as I believe careful observation of the accompanying images will reveal. Hanami is more of an appreciation and celebration, not only of the blossoms per se; but of life itself and those with whom hanami is shared. To even be a viewer of hanami, as was my position in capturing these photographs, is an uplifting experience.
If I were asked for one word to describe what I observed, the word would be “joy” – a simple yet significant word. When joy is felt, other emotions such as happiness, peacefulness, love and even reverence are brought into play. To think that little pink/white blossoms can evoke such emotions is testament to the power of nature to build the human spirit and is, in my view, an inherent strength of Japanese culture to harness this subtle power for individual and community good.
The photographs were taken at a number of Kyoto locations, though location is insignificant in this instance. Whether located in one of Kyoto’s most sacred or most nondescript locations, the cherry blossom is appreciated. Indeed, I recall thinking during my walks through Kyoto, that the solitary trees one finds in otherwise plain areas may even have the greatest significance.
Let me discuss the photographs and I will try to be brief. The young girl crossing the narrow bridge over the canal (pic 1) is an everyday sight in Kyoto. Add the presence of cherry blossoms and her pink clothing and the image becomes poetic. Similarly, the generations passing on the bridge (pic 2) talks of the timeliness of the season’s appeal and the seasons of life.
Look closely at the faces of the businessman (pic 3) and the father with his adult daughter (my assumption) at pic 4. What do you see? Apart from more pink clothing worn by the daughter (there is a trend here); their faces show appreciation for the object of their gaze. What were they looking at? An old sakura tree, draping its blossoms over the wall of Ryoanji’s famous karesansui (pic 5). The wall alone is an object of beauty, which, during the cherry blossom season, becomes mesmerizing.
Pic 6 illustrates why the Philosopher’s Path is a time-honoured hanami location and further along the path, one finds a group of old friends sharing another hanami season at pic 7.
Hanami can be and is often enjoyed alone, as shown by the young woman (pics 8 and 9) apparently lost in admiration of the season’s blooms. What is she thinking? What is she remembering? What is she wishing for? Only she knows, but look closely at the patterns on her kimono. Could she be wearing her hanami kimono? Whatever the answer to these questions, I sense she will have remembered these frozen moments.
The season is a time for parents and children of all ages. At pic 10 we see a father tenderly supporting the tottering early steps of his daughter, experiencing what may be her first hanami. In years to come, one wonders whether she will be in a photograph such as pic 11, where two women of different generations celebrate another season, again exhibiting tenderness and love.
Communal groups also form in popular locations such as the Sanmon Gate (pic 12), where the steps form ideal viewing platforms. Hanami can even dispel myths. Anyone who thinks the Japanese are always quiet and reserved would change their views after spending time around groups like those at pics 13 and 14. Office juniors are often assigned the task of securing a location for after-work hanami celebrations and from what I observed, their efforts and lonely hours are well rewarded with convivial and loud company.
Finally, it is a season where romance can also bloom and even if short lived, it’s not every day that sharing a takeaway meal on a concrete seat can be an atmospheric experience (pic 15). Happy hanami (pic 16) is intentionally placed last, simply because it is an infectiously happy shot and if we could all have moments like this throughout each year, the world would be a happier place.
Thank you for reading and looking at my personal interpretation of a cherry blossom season in Kyoto. I hope you can see some of what I saw and I’d be delighted if you see and feel much more.
(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)
April 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm
Absolutely gorgeous words of heart accompanied by captures of such divine beauty and love – as always!
Love, love how this post of yours takes readers gently by the hand and shows the sheer beauty of the Hanami♥
I am left with only these musings (pardon me if this sound naive – or starry-eyed for that matter, but I’m sure you’ll understand the spell Kyoto casts upon those blessed enough to visit her ethereal grounds), having browsed through your deliciously written post –
That I know in my heart that every place is sacred. Beautiful. Magical.
Yet, I still feel that one has to be truly blessed by the heavens indeed to be able to rest awhile, whether after work (what a refreshing experience that would be!), spend some quiet moments with loved ones or with nature herself in a place as gorgeous as Kyoto that offers up spaces (enlivened by cherry trees to top it off) for introspection into how connected we (and all that we are made of) are to one another – and of course, to nature and this blessed earth we share.
Thank you John, for sharing your light and love through your delightful posts, which inevitably come alive as precious balms to starry-eyed lovers of Kyoto as yours truly. 🙂
Do take good care and stay precious
April 5, 2014 at 6:11 pm
Thank you B,
It was indeed a blessing to have this experience and a pleasure to share how it felt through this humble post. Although my personal hanami moments will be forever with me, I truly believe that the experience for Japanese people, with their symbiotic link to the sakura’s place within their culture, must be further heightened. I’m delighted to know that this little walk took you heart back to your beloved Kyoto.
April 7, 2014 at 12:26 am
Thank you for sharing your light and your generous words of heart, my friend.
Your posts are absolute delights in more ways than one – and it is moving to read of one’s growing love (or adoration, nostalgic though it may be) for a blessed place that has cast its ethereal spell, in the words of a kindred mind.
Thank you for this kindness, which will light this week and more.
Take care and stay precious, too
April 6, 2014 at 3:08 pm
Yesterday I went for a walk and I noticed a cherry tree in bloom in a garden and the whole family was sitting underneath the tree, probably having their own hanami, in their own garden. And it wasn’t the only cherry tree I saw in a private garden, I noticed quite a few in my town. So you’re right, the significance of the hanami for the Japanese people is greater than we think, the family members could have admired the flowers separately, but instead they chose to gather and have their own family hanami, even if it was in a place as close as their own garden.
And another thing… hanami seems to be a popular choice for young people to have a date.
Beautiful pictures and words accompanying them! Keep up the good work!
April 6, 2014 at 5:43 pm
I also noticed cherry trees in many gardens, particularly in Kyoto and what you witnessed was a nice insight into the many forms hanami takes. You’re right about hanami and dating, but on a broader scale one of the things that impressed me about Japan is how the young people join in the seasonal celebrations of spring and autumn. I found this quite refreshing, whereas in the western world generally I suspect the young would consider such celebrations uncool. It sounds like the season is well under way and I hope you’ll have many more opportunities to enjoy the blossoms.
April 6, 2014 at 7:51 pm
You’re right, I don’t think you’d see western young people wearing traditional costumes to go see some trees in bloom. I also admire the fact that here the young generation still embraces traditions.
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April 10, 2014 at 8:42 am
Great photos, John! They take me right back to when I lived in Japan in the early ’90s. I always thought Hanami was just an incredible time of year because it seemed like the Japanese fell under a kind of mystical trance. Actually, I think they do, indeed, fall under a spell & you’ve captured it all gorgeously! All the best to you! – Mark
April 10, 2014 at 5:37 pm
It’s always encouraging to hear when photos connect with a viewer’s own experiences and I’m also happy to hear that your Hanami memories remain strong and happy. Best wishes!
October 20, 2014 at 1:05 am
Wow…. loved this piece. Everything about it. Beautiful
October 20, 2014 at 5:38 pm
Thanks for your kind words. Cherry blossom season is a very special time.