My street, in the North West suburbs of Sheffield, is a nice enough, but unremarkable row of 1930’s built semi-detached houses. The Cherry ‘Kanzan’ trees that line my street too, are for most of the year, fairly unremarkable. Historically one of the most planted street trees in Sheffield’s suburbs; many have now died off or succumbed to the perils of new drives and highway improvements.
But each spring, for about two short weeks, when the trees are in full blossom, I would say my street rivals anywhere.
It seems a shame not to celebrate such a brief and dramatic change to the street more formally. The Japanese have been doing just that for several centuries with the practice of hanami . Hanami literally means viewing flowers, but it generally indicates cherry blossom viewing. It’s said that the origin of hanami dates back over a thousand years. Nowadays, it is a major event for the people in Japan who celebrate by having picnic’s under the trees. In popular hanami spots, thousands of people fill the parks to hold feasts under the flowering trees, with the celebrating often taking precedence over admiring the blossom, hanami parties can get quite wild.
The dramatic beauty of the trees is made even more poignant, almost bitter-sweet, by the transience of the blossom. Yesterday an elderly resident chatted about how the blossom seems to fall almost as soon as it arrives, noting “it’s a shame int it; they’re so lovely”.
Japanese culture has articulated what the old resident was describing, with poems praising the delicate flowers, which were seen as a metaphor for life itself; beautiful, but fleeting. The Heian era poets watched falling cherry blossoms with a sense of mortality and used to write poems about how much easier things would be in spring without the cherry or ‘sakura’ blossoms, because their existence reminded us that life is very short.
So, in tribute to the much maligned old cherry trees that line my street, and the lessons they can teach, I decided to have my own little ‘Sheffield Hanami’. I put the kettle on (Yorkshire tea ceremony), took a cuppa out front, and watched the cherry blossom fall.