Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sakura 2011

I've spent a lot of time this year trying to put into words what makes the cherry blossoms feel so downright profound here. There are cherry trees in D.C. (supposedly). There are cherry trees in Eugene and Portland... but somehow the trees I've seen elsewhere never felt quite like the event that the cherries blooming in Tokyo are.

Perhaps, as I love this city in part for it's remarkable doublethink/hypocrisy the cherry trees are a part of that.
When the cherries bloom even the most workaholic salary-man stops for a moment, pauses and appreciates nature.
In a city so safe, so clean (well...), so polite, the park is still full of trash and half eaten food and stale beer in the mornings. And the crows, loud and ecstatic. Shouting and cawing, "This is the best day of my life!"

In the most boring cement suburbs, along a stoned in slew (full of murky slow water and feral coy) the blossoms at night catch the light and the beautiful smell catches you by surprise.

This year, local/neighborhood governments put up signs saying please do not party in the parks as usual out of respect for the tragedy in Tohoku (northern Japan). After all nearly 130,000 people are still homeless with no where to return to. The evacuation zone around the nuclear power plants increased. The after shocks continue... how could it possibly be appropriate to party in the parks?!?

Well, at least as appropriate as continuing to work 10-12 hours a day 5-6 days a week like 'normal.' and pretending, for the sake of the country, for the sake of the students, for the sake of our friends that everything is ok.

To say that we are all back at work and that the blackouts have been postponed is true. Some days do feel normal. Some days when everyone got woken up in the night by earthquakes and then rattled all morning... don't feel normal. And I don't think we should be hurring back to this type or normality.

So the Emporer and the neighborhood governments said don't party in the parks. And what did the people do? Well, there were fewer revelers this year. The parties were smaller and a little more low key, but they still happened. One park, the revelers got kicked out with a guilt trip so they moved to the stairs of the Government buildings with their musical instruments and put out a hat for donations to send north. They raised about $3000USD that day.
I think a lot of iconic Japanese imagery--the cherry blossoms, the cicadas, the maples etc symbolize not onlyl the seasons but rebirth. They are something we wait for every year. They are something we track-- have they started in Kyushu yet? There are forecasts for when which part of the country will burst into bloom. We collectively hold our breath. And Japan is all about the collective action, expectation, oo of 'that's awfully pretty'
It's an event worth celebrating and often coincides with the beginning of the school year and the when freshman workers enter new companies. Last year, there I was nervously scurrying to the train early in the morning, glancing up at the cherries and smiling as I rushed off to my brand new shiny job full of optimism and eagar to impress.

It's on of many of Japan's rites of passage that I've hit. A black suit with a white collared shirt, introducing myself to my new collegues with the set phrases. Hoping to work hard enough to succeed. Hoping that this job will be 'the one.' The one that becomes a career.

It didn't work out that way, but I've certainly grown from the experience, the challenge, the successes here and there.

And in two weeks, the moment has passed. The city as a whole relaxes a little and lets out a sigh of satisfied relief. The green leaves bloom immediately so that it's hard to remember that there was a frosted winter sky beyond those branches just a month ago.

The days warm and life moves on.
I keep working on this year's "Songs to Skip Town By" and read books like "Down and Out in Paris and London." I look forward to the new chapter and the new career. I look forward to eventually tramping through the jungle again and dancing Oregon nights away. But that's not to say that I won't miss 35 million people packed together and collectively holding their breath for the first cherry to bloom.