If it exists, you can find it in Tokyo. This is something I’ve found to be very true since starting my exchange at the Tokyo University of Foreign studies in April.
However, one thing I did not expect to find here was a connection to nature.
And yet, experiencing spring and now summer here I’ve found the natural world is central to the lives of all Japanese – even those living in Tokyo.
I arrived in Japan just in time to witness the annual blooming of the cherry blossoms, awaking one morning to find my view from the eighth floor of TUFS’s international residence had transformed overnight.
I was in awe. Never before had I witnessed such a stunning transformation in such a short time.
“If there were no cherry blossoms in this world, how much more tranquil our hearts would be in spring.” – Ariwara no Narihira
But it wouldn’t last long. The blossoms only bloom for a week or two, and after my initial wonder came a sense of anticipation and nervousness.
Diligently, I followed the cherry blossom forecasts released by the Japan Meteorological Corporation, my heart leaping every time the predicted day of mankai ‘full bloom’ shifted. A breath of wind was enough to set my pulse racing.
In the end, I carried out my obligatory hanami (‘flower viewing’) expedition in late April in Hirosaki, a castle town in Aomori prefecture, where the flowers bloom a little later. Mankai or not, it was spectacularly beautiful.
The force with which the cherry blossoms captured not just my mind but the minds of everyone I knew was spectacular. It was as if there was something intoxicating in their fragrance, so that for the week or two they graced us with their presence they were all anyone could talk or think about.
Of course, it is impossible not to connect the cherry blossoms’ ephemeral wonder to the fleeting miracle of our own lives. At night, their pale petals reflecting the moonlight gleamed the colour of bone.
However, once the cherry blossoms fell the image of decay was replaced by a lush green. May 4th in Japan is Midori-no-hi ‘Greenery Day,’ a national holiday whose purpose is to provide people with an opportunity to “commune with nature” and be thankful for blessings. Public gardens and zoos offer free entry. I visited Ueno zoo with a friend, feeling revived by the vibrant colours and flurry of activity, surrounded by children.
Participating in hanami and midori-no-hi I felt my own place in the natural world more keenly. The Japanese calendar encourages this connection with nature, with national holidays such as Mountain Day and Ocean Day, as well as summer, autumn, and winter festivals. Food (nanohana in spring, ayu and somen in summer) is another way people connect to the changing seasons. It’s a neat way to stay grounded while living in the one of the most modern cities on the planet.
See for yourself at the ANU Global Programs Fair at ANU Open Day.