It’s one of those things that just doesn’t translate well: Hanami. Literally meaning, “Look at flowers,” the concept of Hanami embodies much more than a stroll through a garden. Last Sunday David and I went with Kazuyo, my boss, to a park called Kamiyama. There we joined dozens of families having picnics, playing games, and enjoying a day out in the beautiful sunshine.
It looked like any Sunday outing, with one major difference: the sheet of pink above our heads. Japanese cherry blossom trees in bloom are like no other colour. They aren’t the dark pink of tulips. They aren’t the garish hot pink of a nine-year-old girl’s bedroom. For one very brief moment in spring the whole country of Japan is the soft shade of a baby’s blanket. But babies are small; hence their blankets are small. Early April in Japan is the only time I’ve ever seen such an unbroken line of baby pink.
The school year in Japan begins during cherry blossom season. The promise of new life and fresh flowers carry over into the promise of a new school year with fresh opportunities to learn and grow.
Cherry blossoms represent the life cycle in miniature. They bud, flower, and whither very quickly in early spring. Since their peak time for viewing is very, short cherry blossoms also represent a fleetingness in life. So, for one day, people take time out of their busy schedules. At the height of the blooming, families and friends pack up picnic lunches and have a party under the trees.
Hanami doesn’t translate well into English. Yet the concepts of taking a break from overly busy schedules, enjoying beauty in nature, and celebrating life cross national boundaries. Maybe we should find a word for Hanami in English. Along sakura (cherry blossom) road.