Back when I was in first grade (around 1963 or 1964) I learned a song in school. It was a Japanese song called “Sakura Sakura,” which means Cherry Blossom, Cherry Blossom. It was a springtime song and the class sang it for the parents. I have never forgotten the words to the song over all these years. However, as a young child, it didn’t even dawn on me that someday I would go to Japan and experience the Cherry Blossoms myself!
In Lexington, where I reside, the cherry blossoms are in bloom, especially at the Lexington Cemetery. Each year as I go see them, I recite the words to the song again.
Translated, this simple song says:
Cherry Blossoms, Cherry Blossoms
In the spring sky, as far as the eye can see
Is it fog or is it a cloud?
Oh the sweet scent
Let’s go see
Or something along those lines.
In Japan, this is a wonderful time of year as families gather with blankets and picnic lunches for “Hanami” – “Seeing the Flowers.” They will go in droves to the local parks, the grand castle parks and other locations to sit under the cherry blossom-filled trees to eat their lunch, enjoy the blossoms, the beauty and the spring sky. I first arrived in Japan in April in 1976, and my first stop was in the lovely Japan seaside city of Kanazawa, known for its famed Kenrokuen Park, one of the most famous parks in Japan. When I arrived the park was full of Cherry Blossoms. Sadly, at that time I didn’t have a very good camera and thus don’t have any photos from then. But in 1977, while I lived in Ogaki, near the city of Gifu, I once again enjoyed hanami, both in Ogaki as well as near the Gifu Castle. (Some of the slides have faded over the years, but I think you can get the picture.)
I was blessed to return to Japan with my family in 1989 and we lived on the island of Kyushu in the city of Oita. Plenty of Cherry Blossoms there as well. Just one fun photo of me with the Cherry Blossoms, taken in 1990 in the old samurai town of Hita, Japan. I was actually dressed in this kimono while I did a television show about the famed samurai swordsmen from the small fortress behind me.
And now, I can jump to 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky, where I still recite the Sakura song when I drive through the Lexington Cemetery to enjoy Hanami (well, without the blankets and picnic). Thousands of Lexingtonians visit the cemetery this time of year to see these beautiful flowering trees, most of them with no knowledge of the ancient Hanami traditions of Japan.
It has been nearly 48 years since I first learned the song Sakura, and learned my first Japanese. Today, I am fluent in the language and have done work with the Japanese, lived in Japan, taught Japanese at Universities and have had a life-long love of cherry blossoms.
I hope you enjoyed this little tour through time about the cherry blossoms.