Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sakura, Cherry Blossoms!

"Sakura" flowering front lines should have gone further north than 38 degrees latitude. This is the week the cherry trees burst their buds in grand style worldwide. Just a few days ago, the Washington Post featured a historical presentation ceremony of the Potomac Bank cherry trees with the photograph of First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the then Japanese Ambassador.

Sakuras in Washington were gifts from the Capital of Tokyo, or Edo, the old name under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Yoshimune Tokugawa (1716-1745 ), the 8th Shogun had cherry trees planted as one of the city beautification projects along the River Sumida so that visitors to the bank could enjoy a picnic and boat rides in the Spring. The scenes were drawn as Ukiyoe by famous artists of the day. However, a shrewd guess is that the increased unemployment in Edo was the real motive that made Yoshimune decide on this public undertaking, thus succeeding in killing two birds with one stone.According to one of the oldest chronicles of Japan, Emperor Saga (786-842) had a cherry blossom viewing in the year 812, inviting poets, singers and aristocrats. This was the first cherry blossom viewing that was recorded in Japan. We see poems about plum blossoms imported from China rather than the cherry blossoms in the the oldest Manyo Anthology (Collections of Ten Thousand Leaves). The number of poems about cherry blossoms increase in the later Kokin Anthology.

Feasting under blooming cherry trees is humble and modest in its origin. It was more like an offering with prayers by village farmers living and toiling under the mountain cherry blossoms. In our neighboring countries, such as China and Korea, the viewing of plums, peaches and peonies are popular but seemingly without the picnic or dinner banquet.

We owe the ingenuity of "Ihei Ito", a horticultural pioneer, in creating today’s Somei Yoshino , a special kind of cherry tree species that can flourish by easy grafting. Somei is the name of the district in Tokyo (today’s Komagome in Toshima Ward) where Ito resided. The name Yoshino was taken from Mt. Yoshino in Nara, a famous location of magnificent cherry trees. Somei Yoshino is a cross-breed of two species, Oshima Sakura and Edo Higan. Today Somei Yoshino has a variety of 400 species.

Sakura now enjoys worldwide popularity , pleasing people with its fragrance and beauty. It is also a symbol of peace and friendship.

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