The fragility of the sakura

Spring is now well on its way in Tokyo. This morning I extended my Sunday morning run out to 15km along the Zenpukuji and Kanda rivers, sweeping round in a wide loop to take in a few of the local parks along the way. The local authority has done a splendid job of creating a footpath that follows the course of the two rivers, with cherry lining the route for virtually the whole length. Japan is of course famous for its cherry blossoms that explode suddenly in the spring and transform even the most austere urban landscapes into incredible spectacles of colour. Cherry blossom, known as sakura in Japanese, is a cultural icon; the blossoms appear suddenly and utterly transform the landscape, creating huge vistas of delicately coloured blossoms that make it look as if the trees were made of clouds. The drabness of winter is cast aside in a matter of hours as life once again bursts forth, painting the landscape with splashes of colour the herald the warmer days to come. People’s spirits are transformed too as they gather underneath the blossoms to marvel at the sight, to drink and eat and make merry to celebrate he return of life. And just as quickly, the blossoms are gone.

Sakura time is a time great significance to Japanese people because the blossoms not only signify the magnificence of life, but also its brevity. The blossoms are incredibly beautiful but fragile, and the slightest wind plucks them from the trees and sends them floating gently to earth. To the samurai, the beauty and fragility of the sakura came to represent the impermanence of life itself. Us Westerners, raised on the Christian idea of an everlasting spirit, have a hard time dealing with the idea of impermanence but not so the Japanese, who view everything as transient.

After finishing my run and the compulsory bacon buttie afterwards, me and the mrs made plans to head over to Tachikawa for a bit of shopping. We boarded the train at Mitaka, and then sat there for 30 minutes. All the trains on teh Chuo line had stopped because of an “accident” at one of the stations further along. An “accident” is a euphemism for a suicide. The Chuo line is a favorite suicide spot due to the speed and the frequency of trains that ply up and down between the city and the outlying districts.

So, on this wonderful spring day in Tokyo, someone, somewhere today recieved the hammer blow news that a loved one had chosen to end their life under the wheels of a Chuo line train. Someone woke up this morning, and took the decision that this was their last day on Earth. This time of year is about the return of life; yet this morning it was about the end of life for one unfortunate soul.

This morning one precious sakura blossom lost its tenuous grasp on the branch of life and was scattered to the ground. On such a lovely Spring morning, the tragedy of it was particularly poigniant.

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