Celebrating cherry blossom

View along the Takano River in Kyoto


Yes, it’s that time of year again…   banks of pinkish cloud covering hillsides; cameras intrusively close to unfurling blossom; parks packed with drunken revellers more interested in karaoke than cherry.  Here in Kyoto we have many special cherry blossom sites, and from my window I can gaze along the Takano River lined in pink as it meanders towards the northern hills.  Ah, Saigyo…

Let me die in spring under the blossoming trees, let it be around that full moon of the fourth month.

blossoms/ on the withered trunk/like memories

The Japanese have long made a cult of cherry blossom.  It used to be plum blossom until Heian times, a custom adopted from China, for the reawakening of nature after the long sleep of winter was marked by the miraculous first flowering of the fruit tree.  But the Japanese preference for cherry gradually prevailed, driven by an affinity with the evanescence of its blossom.

The sentiment is usually associated with the Buddhist view of the transience of life, but Shinto shares a similar outlook.  It was after all the great Shinto scholar, Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), who came up with the compelling notion of mono no aware (the pathos of things) as an underlying current in the culture.  It was Motoori too who wrote the poem: ‘If someone asks about the spirit of a true Japanese, point to the wild cherry blossom shining in the sun.’

One way of looking at Shinto is as a celebration of life, and that includes cherry blossom viewing.  Here in Kyoto we have a shrine famed for its cherry connection – Hirano Jinja.  The precincts contain 400 cherry trees in all, with 50 different types that bloom successively over a month.  Take a look at this page from the shrine’s website to see the loving detail with which the Japanese record these things.

The shrine has held a cherry blossom festival annually since 985.  It began during the reign of Emperor Kazan, and is celebrated now on April 10 each year.  In the morning at 11.00 there will be a ceremony at Emperor Kazan’s mausoleum, and in the afternoon at 1.00 a procession will head around the neighboring area.

The weather forecast is good.  The blossom are coming to their peak.  The shrine sure is going to be packed!

Crowds flooding into Hirano Shrine (Photo courtesy of Brian Adler)


For more on Japan’s cherry blossom soul, see Michael Hofmann in the Japan Times

For a firsthand account of Kyoto’s cherry blossom festivals, see

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Celebrating cherry blossom — 4 Comments

  1. Well, you’re in luck. It looked like full bloom today (Monday), so on Friday there should be plenty left… and there are always late bloomers such as those at Ninna-ji….

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