The sakura trees in Tokyo are once again enjoying their time in the sun, their delicate blossoms marking yet another year. Amid the city’s cold brutalist landscape, those pale pastel blossoms — both joyous and wistful, beautiful yet ephemeral, much like life itself — transform their surroundings like the brush strokes of a master painter bring a canvas to life; soothe us like the sweetest caresses of a loving hand; lift our spirits like the brightest of rose-colored glasses.
Transience and impermanence are hallmarks of life, from the changing elements of the seasons to the changing seasons of our own lives. Nothing lasts forever; it all fades away. This is the pathos of life, the mono no aware.
Mono-no aware: the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last. It’s basically about being both saddened and appreciative of transience – and also about the relationship between life and death. In Japan, there are four very distinct seasons, and you really become aware of life and mortality and transience. You become aware of how significant those moments are.
— David Buchler / Fiona Macdonald
The most celebrated example of a natural phenomenon rich in mono no aware is the spectacle of cherry blossoms.
— The Book of Life
It’s that time of year again. The sakura trees are blooming and blossom-viewing fever has gripped the populace as certain parks and waterways and avenues are invaded for hanami. It’s easy to be cynical, but the delicate beauty of the somei-yoshino trees in full bloom and the ephemerality of their blossoms is a major work of poetry — created by nature and repeated verse after verse as the blossom season spreads across the country — and in Japan especially the spectacle has long been an inspiration for the poets.
they fall in the dreams
of sleeping beauty
What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.
Thanks for all
Expressing my gratitude to blossoms
at the parting.
On this topic: a fascinating deep dive by Naoko Abe into Japan’s cherry trees and the culture surrounding the ubiquitous somei-yoshino — or you can dip into a short photo essay of mine from a few years ago.