~Traditional Japanese cherry blossom song
For me spring can be encapsulated in the cherry blossom. Delicate, ethereal, a visible sign of new life and hope: the ghostly promise of glowing fruit yet to come. The white flowers standing in their vulnerability on bare branches, braving the chill winter air, before the leaves have unfurled from their winter slumber. They fall like snow, blanketing the ground with their pale petals.
In the days before we had children my husband and I lived in Japan, just like my father before me. My father had always described the extraordinarily romantic nature of the people of Japan – especially where cherry blossom was concerned. Every spring throughout my childhood he would sing me their ode to the cherry blossom.
yayoi no sorawa
kasumi ka kumo ka
nioi zo izuru
We fell in love with the cherry blossom, with Japan, and with each other – I proposed to my husband during our time in Kyoto, completing a sacred circle, as I myself was conceived there on my parent’s honeymoon!
In late March and early April, in parks, gardens and along river banks around Kyoto, you would find o-hanami – cherry blossom picnics — in full swing. Grandparents and grandchildren. Mums and dads. Lovers. Lots of students. Many in traditional kimonos. All out to celebrate the season’s snow-petal beauty with mochi (rice cakes), plum wine, and rice balls.
The Japanese are so enamored with the cherry blossoms that there are whole magazines dedicated to the best places to spot them, and the weather forecast has a special section predicting and showing the height of the natural displays. The most famous tree in one of the main parks is reputed to be many hundreds of years old. It is a truly a national obsession – and one which we brought home with us to Ireland.
So now we have our own garden with not one but two cherry trees, a single flowered white one grafted from my parent’s-in-law’s tree, and a frilled pink one gifted to us on our own wedding. They are ciphers for love, for hope, for beauty in our garden and in our life.
Last year we planted them in late January, and we watched in anticipation as the buds swelled, and counted down the days to full blossom.
Of course I taught my children the cherry blossom song, the song of my childhood. The song that my father sang at my wedding. The song that I sang as a free spirit cycling around Kyoto. So I was so delighted to hear my children going around singing it — their high-pitched voices welcoming the spring.
We brought in a branch to flower on our nature table, tended by our cherry blossom fairy.
I told them stories of o-hanami and it was decided that we must have our own. There is nothing my children love more than picnics – the special food, the preparations, laying out the rug, and of course the simple deliciousness of eating outside which has been impossible for the whole long winter.
So finally the day came when the tree was covered in blossom, and we could wait no longer. The children stayed home from school and we prepared sakura cupcakes and spring flower tea. The tea was a revelation: adults and kiddies loved it. It lifted the spirits in the making… and the drinking. We added wild primroses, violets, wild strawberry flowers and leaves, scented geranium leaves (but you could use lemon balm or lemon verbena instead) and, of course, cherry blossom, to boiling water and left it to steep for 10 minutes. Truly it steeped us in the delicate taste of spring.
We dressed in oriental clothes and had our picnic under a grey sky with the snowy blossoms bobbing above our heads, singing our cherry blossom song. Later we threaded blossoms into garlands to adorn ourselves and the trees.
Two days later we celebrated again, this time with my father, stepmother and brother and sister. Sushi, plum wine, wasabi peas and seaweed snacks had been brought back from my father’s trip to London to feast on. Our children enjoyed children’s fushi – fake sushi made with rice cereal and candy. And, of course, we sang our song!
Happy o-hanami to you too!
More information about Sakura, Sakura, the Japanese folk song
Lucy Pearce is a free-spirited, free-lance writer and mama to three little ones aged 6, 4 and 2. She blogs at Dreamingaloud. She has recently launched her first book: Moon Time: a Guide to Celebrating Your Menstrual Cycle which is available in paperback from Amazon.com, e-book format from her new website The Happy Womb, a hub for womancraft and mama souls. She is contributing editor at JUNO magazine.