The Lesson of Cherry Blossoms

Nashville’s cherry trees seem more spectacular than ever to me this year. Maybe that’s because I’ve been paying attention to them more than I used to. There’s something particularly poignant this spring about those clouds of white-blushing-pink, a botanical legacy of Japan.

This week NPR’s Morning Edition aired a story–Japan’s Cherry Blossoms in Brief, Beautiful Bloom–just as D.C.’s cherry trees spring into profuse flower.  Thousands of those trees were gifts from Japan, a place where artistic expressions of nature–in formal gardens, paintings, and poetry–seem to transcend the earthly realm.

Mount Fuji Seen through Cherry Blossom, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

The radio piece speaks of cherry blossoms as symbols of life’s ephemeral nature, a reminder of the transience of flowers and seasons, and of cities and loved ones, disappeared beneath the waves. The story then shifts to a D.C. exhibition of Japanese folding screens at the Freer Gallery. The screens featuring Matsushima Bay are lovely and heartbreaking. It’s just north of Sendai, a city ravaged by the recent tsunami…and not for the first time. This 400-year-old screen depicts a torrent of water swallowing cliffs and trees at Matsushima:

“Waves at Matsushima” by Tawaraya Sotatsu

Curator James Ulak finds comfort in these depictions of villages and landscapes that the sea and earth have seen fit to transform, even erase. “We are fortunate … to have this kind of a memory of the place,” he tells NPR. “It will return…but never in the same way. So the lesson of the cherry blossom is very much in evidence here.”

Click here to hear the audio feature and see a slideshow of the Freer Gallery exhibition.

2 thoughts on “The Lesson of Cherry Blossoms

  1. Sakura!!!!!

    I missed seeing the trees in full bloom in DC while there earlier this week. So sad. I’ll need to keep an eye out here in Nashville. They really are pretty.

    Hey did you know there’s a teeeeeeny tiny smiley face at the bottom left of the screen when you leave a comment on here? Cute.

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