I have a Japanese bucket list, a long list of goals to achieve when I eventually visit my spiritually homeland. I want to eat fancy yogurt parfaits in Harajuku, take a long twilight stroll in Yoyogi Park, see Kyoto’s amazing fall foliage, enjoy a relaxing dip in a steamy onsen. Another addition to my long list is to partake in hanami or traditional flower-viewing (hana=flower, mi=to see).
Hanami is a thousands of years old tradition that celebrates the coming of spring and the blossoming sakura trees. Cherry blossom trees hold important meaning in Japanese culture; the trees’ flowers bloom and quickly disappear during the beginning of the Japanese school year, now symbolizing the fleetingness of youth and innocence. Sakura are heavily used in Japanese media (especially anime) to represent this melancholic but impactful sentiment. I want to take part in deeply inherent Japanese tradition— to sit under a cherry blossom tree with green tea and mochi contemplating the beauty of life and my own mortality…can you get more anime?
Fortunately for me, Japanese pop culture is international; there are variations of hanami all over the US. Two years ago, I went to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s public hanami, Sakura Matsuri. Washington D.C. also has a big cherry blossom festival every year (I would love to go one day). My celebration was low-key this year but still beautiful and thought-provoking. To celebrate Easter (and hanami), I went with my family to a state park in my town, the gorgeous Planting Fields Arboretum, and admired the magnificent spring flowers and cherry blossom trees.
This beautiful tree is a Weeping Higan Cherry, a variation of the sakura tree I had never seen before. Traditional cherry trees stand up relatively straight, but this weeping rendition created a mesmerizing canopy that dramatically captured the bittersweet essence of the sakura tree. While walking by, I was struck by its scale and beauty. I found myself staying by the tree for a long time.
After reading the nameplate , I realized I heard its name before. The Weeping Higan Cherry shares the same name as the higanbana, a flower I recently wrote about for its significance in Dororo. After some research I found out that the name comes from Ohigan, a Buddhist holiday celebrating the autumnal and spring equinoxes. The higanbana, an autumn flower, signifies the celebration in the fall. The higan cherry, you guessed it, represents the holiday in the spring. It was a weird coincidence that made me love the tree even more. In regards to the way higanbana is written in the original kanji, higan translates to “hell.” I couldn’t find any evidence of it online, but is this Weeping Higan somehow a hell cherry tree? Does it represent our short-lived youth and something far more sinister? I can’t say. But I do know is that this Higan Hell Cherry was the highlight of my hanami.
Take a look at an excerpt of Planting Fields beautiful collection:
The cherry blossoms and spring flowers I saw this weekend are made more beautiful by their ephemeral nature and the bittersweet message they represent. Events like hanami and Sakura Matsuri are times to appreciate nature— something we take for granted now more than ever— and reflect on how we fit into the natural world. It may not have been a traditional hanami, but my trip to the park was a lovely time with my family that I will continue to think about for the rest of the spring season. And I still await the day I check a traditional hanami off my bucket list. Watch out Japan, I’ll be on my way soon!
Source: Yale Nature Walk