On 11th March it was the 10th anniversary of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami which caused much devastation in small fishing communities up and down Japan’s Pacific coast. By the time I visited some of these communities in November 2011, quite a bit of progress had been made in rebuilding facilities and infrastructure, though there was still much to do in restoring people’s homes and livelihoods.
Given the scale of the damage and disruption to people’s lives, I wondered how hope had emerged from all the chaos and despair. In discussion with several Japanese people, what emerged was that a crucial factor was the timing. The Tsunami hit just before the arrival of the ‘sakura-zensen” the ‘cherry blossom front’.
In Japan the arrival of the cherry blossom (sakura) is greeted with great reverence, with people camping out for several days so as to be in the best place when it happens. There are parties (hanami parties) with groups of family or friends picnicking under trees laden with blossom. There’s a virtual wave as the sakura-zensen which sweeps north from the southern island of Kyushu in early March up through the main archipelago to Hokkaido in the north by some time in May. Daily reports of the location of the sakura-zensen are broadcast on the news, so that people can track it’s progress and be ready for it when it arrives.
The meaning and significance of cherry blossom in Japan runs deep, making the country’s national flower a cultural icon revered not just for its beauty, but for its enduring symbolism. Cherry blossom symbolises for them, life, death and renewal, and the delicate balance between the fragility and impermanence of our existence and new life and hope. Sakura are have been revered for many centuries in Japanese folk religions, as a symbol of rebirth, believed to represent the mountain deities that transformed into the gods of rice paddies and guaranteed the year’s harvest.
Sakura have therefore always signalled the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism. So with the blooming in 2011 coming shortly after the tsunami, it engendered this spirit of optimism and renewal bringing with it new hope and new dreams. When cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the future is bursting with possibilities. When the Japanese gather under the cherry blossom trees each year, they’re also commemorating the loss of loved ones and reflecting on their own lives with a sense of wonder whilst also laying aside the disappointments of the past to focus on a promising new start.
Given all that has happened over the last year, as we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, let us likewise look forward with hope and optimism, laying aside our own disappointments and looking forward to all the new possibilities together in Christ.