– by B. T. Newberg
This video is a bit more quirky than usual for HP, but I thought I’d share it. Everyday from the first bud to the final petal, we took a video of the local cherry blossoms. Watch them bloom and fade before your eyes.
There’s also a local Cherry Blossom Festival with some wicked karaoke. 🙂
You can find more videos like this at the Korea travel blog of my wife and I, Bibimbap Litterbox.
Cherry blossoms and the Japanese occupation
What this video doesn’t capture is the deep ambivalence Koreans must feel about the blossoms. Although cherry trees are indigenous to Korea, much of the culture surrounding their celebration comes from Japan. They are thus a reminder of atrocities committed during the Japanese Imperial occupation (1910-1945), including forced labor, sexual slavery, and medical experimentation. To this day the trauma has not fully healed.
During World War II, the cherry blossom was used to motivate the Japanese people, to stoke nationalism and militarism among the populace. Even prior to the war, they were used in propaganda to inspire “Japanese spirit,” as in the “Song of Young Japan,” exulting in “warriors” who were “ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter.” In 1932, Akiko Yosano‘s poetry urged Japanese soldiers to endure sufferings in China and compared the dead soldiers to cherry blossoms. Arguments that the plans for the Battle of Leyte Gulf, involving all Japanese ships, would expose Japan to serious danger if they failed, were countered with the plea that the Navy be permitted to “bloom as flowers of death.” The last message of the forces on Peleliu was “Sakura, Sakura” — cherry blossoms. Japanese pilots would paint them on the sides of their planes before embarking on a suicide mission, or even take branches of the trees with them on their missions. A cherry blossom painted on the side of the bomber symbolized the intensity and ephemerality of life; in this way, the aesthetic association was altered such that falling cherry petals came to represent the sacrifice of youth in suicide missions to honor the emperor. The first kamikaze unit had a subunit called Yamazakura or wild cherry blossom. The government even encouraged the people to believe that the souls of downed warriors were reincarnated in the blossoms.
In its colonial enterprises, imperial Japan often planted cherry trees as a means of “claiming occupied territory as Japanese space”.
The feeling of mono no aware
The fast-fading blossoms are a symbol of mortality and impermanence, evoking the aesthetic known in Japanese as mono no aware, meaning “the pathos of things” or “a sensitivity to ephemera.”
The word is derived from the Japanese word mono (物?), which means “thing”, and aware (哀れ?), which was a Heian period expression of measured surprise (similar to “ah” or “oh”), translating roughly as “pathos”, “poignancy”, “deep feeling”, or “sensitivity”. Thus, mono no aware has frequently been translated as “the ‘ahh-ness’ of things”, life, and love. Awareness of the transience of all things heightens appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing.