On Sakura and Leaving


I sometimes feel that my ability to write and blog humorously about Japan just died. Like it’s buried beneath the sea of rubble, debris and distraction left by the March 11th Tsunami. I look for it but I can’t find it. And if I ever do, it’s going to be old and rusty. In the same way, since the breakout of the Egyptian Revolution, it has become hard to jokingly list comparisons between my country and my host country; between Egypt and Japan. Like I’m subconsciously convinced that anything I made fun of, from Metro services (or the lack thereof) to public toilets, will be better.

Just as I reached a point in which my writer’s block has become as unbeatable as certain forces of nature, spring was just around the corner. And again I was pleasantly reminded why I love Japan.

One comparison I can still make between Japan and Egypt, is the significance of the seasons in the life of the people. Before coming to Japan, never have I in my life witnessed a change of seasons. My experience with seasons was limited to he fact that I know that in summer is it as hot as your oven after cooking your Thanksgiving Turkey, I know that  in winter (which lasts for about 7 days in January) it is nice, sunny and cool, but it might rain and then the Ring Road will be jammed, in spring I have always enjoyed being hit by the dusty  Khamaseen, and in Autumn, most of the trees remained still green anyway. Seasons might change but people remain the same.

But on the other side of the world, on this small group of islands, with tree leaves changing, Japanese culture simultaneously seems to slightly change. The kinds of foods that are eaten, the festivals that occur, the special editions offered by Kit Kat (cherry blossoms instead of green tea), and even the way people behave. The entire energy in the air shifts and you can feel it in you body and in those around you.

One especially significant event that has been popular with the Japanese throughout their long history is that of hanami 花見. This is the activity of viewing flowers during full blossom, particularly the sakura 桜 (cherry blossom flowers) which is the Japanese national flower and was even used as a symbol of nationalism at one point in Japanese history. When these flowers begin to bloom the Japanese visit temples, shrines, castles, or even nearby hiking trails or parks to admire the flowers’ beauty.

The celebrations may well have been a little subdued this year, but with the cherry blossoms pretty much at their beautiful best, and the weather pleasantly warm, huge numbers of people were out and about in Osaka’s parks and public places on the weekend.

Many people have already been out and about under the cherry blossoms this week. All of whom have, as expected, been enjoying themselves in a manner befitting recent events.

But, however people celebrate hanami, one constant is the military-like precision that goes into organizing it. Not only do a time, place, and numbers need to be finalized and finely tuned, but the actual spot itself can often resemble a small, well equipped village; the likes of protective sheeting, furniture, and phenomenal amounts food and drink feasibly allowing those present to stay there for months.

Of course, there’s nothing at all wrong with that, but at the same time, I always catch myself smiling when I see a group of fellas with some cans from the convenience store just potter over. Put down some newspapers. And happily settle down for a few hours. Or when I see an old Japanese man or woman, on some sidewalk, under a sakura tree, looking up and contemplating its beauty (among other things).

Sakura trees only bloom for a week of ten days. Then the flowers start to fall and are replaced by bright green leaves, which will then, by fall, turn to yellow, brown and red, including all the shades between, then fall off leaving their tree branches white by the effect of snow. Give it sometime, and sakura will be there again.

On a personal level, contemplating and living such a phenomenon has been, to say the least, revelational. It’s a reminder that nothing lasts for long: one day you have a dictator, the next day you don’t. One day you have a city norther Japan called Sendai, the next day you don’t. One day the tree on the sidewalk is pink, the next day it’s green. One day I’m in Japan, the next  I’m on an Egypt Air plane with Cairo as the destination.

My year in Japan has been a monumentally self defining one. I read back the first articles I wrote, I flip between the first pictures I have taken, and I browse the first blogs I posted, and only one thing is clearer; how much I have learned about the bottomless hat that is Japan and the troubled mind that is myself.

I don’t have that much time left but there is still a whole lot to learn. The list of things I will miss is endless, from cheap sushi to struggling to speak in Japanese to old Japanese women smiling to getting stuck doing outrageous poses in purikura boothes with some of the best friends I have ever made.

The Sakura trees may now be falling, but there’s nothing to be concerned about, for I know I’ll be back to see them again.

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June 2011
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