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The Sakura Season in Japan

This is a guest post by Rose Witmer (text) and Michael Lynch (photos). If you want to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read more here.

Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Japanese Cherry Blossoms

The coming of spring heralds the dawn of  the Sakura Season, also known as Cherry Blossom Season, in Japan, and tourists come from all corners of the world to view the blooming of the snow-white Cherry Blossom.  However, long before  the Sakura arrives in the mainland, Okinawans endure the Siberian winds that chill the Cherry Blossom trees in January, coaxing  the island's uniquely deep pink petals forth from the barren branches. Soon, the rough brown is softened by a blush of pink foreshadowing warm spring days.

The Japanese White-Eye

The Japanese White-Eye

The Japanese White-Eye, a small green bird with the distinct white ring around its eyes, flits from one blossom to another, using its long, curved beak to sip nectar from the cup of each flower.  Sometimes hanging up-side down, sometimes hiding behind pink branches before zipping off to another bloom, these birds have been depicted in many paintings and poems when celebrating the season of the Sakura.

A bee harvesting pollen from the Cherry Blossoms

A bee harvesting pollen from the Cherry Blossoms

The Sakura serves as more than an alluring display of pink buds.  Its brief and beautiful existence is viewed by many as a reflection of life itself and has been an inspiration throughout Japanese history.   The proud Samurai found a special connection with the blossoms.  These warriors saw the life of the Sakura as one akin to their own, full of divine elegance, but cut down early by sharp winds; their existence both fleeting and radiant.  Not only warriors,  but also poets, artists, philosophers, kings and peasants all spent what little time they could beneath the Sakura trees watching the snow of  petals whirl in the  air as the wind ripped them from their branches.

Today, the Sakura continue to inspire, drawing photographers to mountain Cherry Blossoms in hopes of capturing  that one perfect moment.   The pink petals  begin to glow as the sun peaks out from behind a cloud,  its rays streaking down  in golden shafts of light.  A lazy bee, drunk on pollen, drifts over to a  flower while the birds flit from branch to branch.  Click.  An image of beauty made eternal with film.

Enjoying the Hanami, or flower viewing party

Enjoying the Hanami, or flower viewing party

The Hanami, or flower viewing  party, is a long  held tradition that is special to the Sakura Season.  Families and old friends gather together over blue tarps with neatly packed picnic  lunches, or bentos, and plenty of Sake for those old enough to indulge. Wrapped in thick jackets, the cold is barely noticed as the time reminiscing  and laughing with friends and loved ones warms the air.

Festivals also add to the excitement of the season.  Tents line the streets with paper lanterns illuminating the various festival foods of grilled noodles, meat and octopus.  Children run to parents begging for money in hopes of winning a prize from games of balloons and bottles and old men sit along benches enjoying the aura of the season among the lively excitement in the air.  Of course, with any Okinawan festival comes the display of traditional dances and the energy of the Eisa, a dance of  drums unique to the Ryukyu Islands.

Decorated trucks illuminate the Cherry Blossoms at night

Decorated trucks illuminate the Cherry Blossoms at night

Most Sakura festivals will end with a display of fireworks.  However, even when a village finds itself unable to afford expensive  pyrotechnics, the Okinawan spirit remains tenaciously undefeated.  One year, in place of loud cracks and bright flashes lighting up the night sky, a group of  truckers decided to  provide their own grand  finale to the festival.   Loud rumbling drew  the curiosity of the village as enormous  trucks dressed in strings of Christmas lights and neon florescence  made their way down  narrow Okinawan roads.   It may not have  been an impressive display of color and fire,  but it added a unique touch of excitement to end the night.

As  February passes in Okinawa,  the winter breezes tear  the last petals from  their safe haven and  carry them on whirling  paths to join the  carpet of pink below.   The Sakura's life of climbing into dense  jungle mountains, its soft pink petals contrasting  with the spreading leaves of the tropical palm trees, is past.   The footsteps of pink scattered throughout city parks and lining paths to quiet shrines fade to blend with the lush jade of the coming tropical Spring.

Pink Cherry Blossoms

Pink Cherry Blossoms

The few remaining  petals are replaced by the vibrant Irish green leaves that push through from beneath the flower.  Only memories and photographs are proof of the fleeting life of the Cherry Blossoms.  The vast contrast of pastel pink to vibrant green  is so astounding it  leaves one wondering  if the Sakura had  ever existed.  Life continues.

However,  the celebrations of  the Sakura are only  the first of many to come.  The Sakura is an unofficial national  symbol and a source  of pride for the  Japanese; Okinawa has  the honor of seeing  it first.  Once the Sakura Season in  Okinawa comes to a close, many will flock  to travel agents to  book flights to Mainland  in preparation for their  Spring Sakura to bloom in April and May,  leaving a trail of  snowy white blossoms up the main island  of Japan.

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Rose Witmer is a young traveler at the beginning of a long journey around the world.  She currently lives in Okinawa, Japan, exploring the jungles and mountains when not enjoying the Japanese city life.  She loves to write and never leaves home without a camera and a notebook.  You can find her on Matador Travel and at her new blog, Samayou Meigui.

Mike Lynch is a photographer in Okinawa, Japan.  For more info visit www.mikesryukyugallery.com

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What Way Today

Wednesday 30th of March 2016

Oh the beauty of the Sakuras! Brilliantly captured in this post by the way. We went 'ast year and have some tips for people visiting Japan this year for the cherry Blossom season. http://whatwaytoday.com/see-cherry-blossom-trees-japan-2016/

Dave

Thursday 31st of March 2016

Thanks for sharing. Please use your real name when leaving comments, not your blog's name.

czapsy

Friday 29th of October 2010

I actually admire your style. Would it not be feasible that you could contact me together with your graphic?

Dave

Wednesday 13th of January 2010

Hi Sophie,

Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed Mike's photos.

Dave

Wednesday 13th of January 2010

Hi Sophie,

Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed Mike's photos.

Sophie

Wednesday 13th of January 2010

Beautiful beautiful photos. That bee...

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