Flashes of pale pink streak past the commuter train windows. Since Friday, the "sakura zensen" cherry blossom front has been sitting right over Tokyo.
A big throng was out when I stopped at Chidorigafuchi, one of the most spectacular cherry-viewing spots in the nation's capital. The blossoms, which were still a tad shy of reaching full bloom, were incandescent in the morning sun. Their beauty almost took my breath away.
As Chidorigafuchi is home to Senbotsusha Boen, the national cemetery for the war dead, the cherry blossoms there are invariably associated with memories of World War II.
On April 7, 1945, the battleship Yamato sank in the East China Sea. The vessel was headed for Okinawa on a suicide mission. As the crew went through their drill in the Seto Inland Sea the day before the ship departed, someone shouted, "Sakura, sakura (cherries, cherries)."
According to "Senkan Yamato no Saigo" (The Death of the Battleship Yamato) by Mitsuru Yoshida (1923-1979), who miraculously survived the mission, the crew rushed up to the deck where the ship's binoculars were located.
Yoshida wrote: "I tried to burn the image of every delicate petal in my memory ... Oh cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms of Japan. Good-bye."
That was the state Japan was in 67 years ago.
Today, our country is struggling with a crisis that is likened to a "second defeat in war." The economy is tottering, the political world is in tatters and damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake has been compounded by the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
The cherry blossoms are painting the badly scarred nation pink, as if to bring encouragement and comfort.
In the disaster areas, many cherry trees were lost in the tsunami. I recently read in the Gifu edition of The Asahi Shimbun about a group donating cherry tree saplings to the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. I was delighted to learn that the group was inspired by what I had written in this column last spring.
The leader of the group noted, "I want the day to come soon when the people who perished in the quake and tsunami will return as flowers in these trees."
This year again, I imagine many people around Japan will be projecting their deep feelings onto cherry blossoms. Every flower will represent permanence as well impermanence.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 7
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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