The love the Japanese people have for cherry blossoms may finally be their downfall. This week as cherry blossoms reached full bloom around Tokyo, crowds of thousands gathered in parks to celebrate the symbolic coming of Spring. Even a ban on alcohol and warnings from the local government couldn’t stop the revelers from crowding together, breaking every rule of social distancing imaginable for the sake of the flowers.
There is a parallel between the cherry blossoms and life itself that is perhaps being taken too literally by those who flaunt the rules. The cherry blossom represents all that is ephemeral, not the least of which is life itself. In the context of eternity, we are here for a moment, gone the next when the wind blows too strong. The whole world is feeling this sense of frailty, the turmoil of being battered by winds blowing from all directions simultaneously.
It was in this environment that I stepped outside, climbed into the saddle of my bicycle, and rode around my neighborhood, searching for the simple beauty of cherry blossoms. It took some searching, often finding trees that were still flowerless or parks that were dirt fields enclosed by chain-link fences. But eventually, I found them; it seems every neighborhood has someplace, be it a quiet park or alongside a gentle river, where you can enjoy the cherry blossoms of Spring. Within 10 km of my house, I found a half dozen areas that rival the beauty of the famous and famously crowded parks of central Tokyo. I reached them on a bicycle, not public transportation. I never needed to pass closer than 2 meters to another soul because these places are mostly unknown but for the locals who live nearby.
This is my sixth Spring in Japan and I fully appreciate the joy of hanami, the Japanese sport of cherry blossom viewing. It is more to the Japanese than a simple act, but a social event that brings joy and hope after the dreary, numbing Japanese winters. And in the age of Coronavirus, we all need joy and hope a little more than ever. But is it necessary to take risks with our lives and the lives of so many others to enjoy the beauty of Spring? In my experience, no. You have everything you need just outside your door if you just take a moment to look for it.