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VM inspiration: Sakura time

A few weeks before Easter is ‘Sakura time’ in Tokyo. When the Japanese Meteorological Agency tracking the sakura zensen, the cherry blossom front, announces that the blossom will open the hotel rates duly skyrocket: viewing the blossom is a popular activity.

In this animist country where every tree, rock, water, and human contains a spirit, which may be revered, the blooming of the cherry trees is particularly special. Not only does it signify the end of winter and the return of spring, just as it does for Brits, but as it coincides with the beginning of the Japanese fiscal year and the first day of the school semester, it also marks the day that residents lives changed when they started school, college, or a new job. The link is even more marked as flowering cherry trees are often planted outside government buildings and schools.

There are over 200 cultivars of the flowering cherry and the flowering almond, many of which do not produce fruit and are purely decorative with pink or white petals. Varying from a dwarf, weeping tree, to a substantial 30ft. high, they line suburban streets and lift the spirits when seen against Tokyo’s grey skyline. On the street they mask the tangle of power and communication cables festooned between the city’s telegraph poles.

Grand Hyatt Tokyo

The sakura zensen sweeps across the country, commencing in Okinawara in the south, in January, to late April in Hokkaido in the far north. The Japanese celebrate by sitting under the trees in groups for picnics. This is the Hamami festival.

Suddenly the opportunity to sit outside blossoms in the city, as here at the Grand Hyatt where mini flowering plants adorn tables, matching the bedding freshly planted out in the beautifully-maintained Roppongi Hills. The weather in Tokyo is still cold but usually bright and sunny during the day, so the blossom is gloriously superimposed against clear blue skies. Unlike much of the UK in March, there is usually no wind at this time so the blossom lasts for several days before a breeze appears and suburban streets are filled with a drifting snow of petals.

On a more profound level, the beauty of sakura lies in its transient nature, its extreme beauty and quick death, which is associated with mortality. We might say the same of fashion change. At this time of the year Japanese fashion magazines run ‘Sakura girl’ fashion spreads looking forward to warmer weather and new fashions.

Japan is not alone in enjoying its much-anticipated cherry trees, as they burst into bloom in China where they form part of the perfect Chinese New Year Festival. The trick here is to have an almond tree in the lobby of an office complex or apartment block, decked in decorative red packet envelopes, that comes into bloom on the first day of Chinese New Year. Such is the importance of this event, that a very able friend who was given this task each year for the large business she worked for in Hong Kong, claimed that selecting the best tree available was the most difficult thing that she did all year.

Nor is appreciation of cherry blossom and spring is confined to Asia. Flower festivals are also found in Brazil, Germany, Holland, Turkey, South Korea, and the USA where the Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura Matsuri is celebrated. India too has its cherry blossom havens, mostly in the cooler hill stations formerly under colonial rule. Liberty’s use of flowers around a pillar in the beauty room on its ground floor is a wonderful evocation of Sakura, and of course links Liberty’s Japonism heritage to current day Japanese and Korean skin merchandise.

Time for Sakura girl to become international and our animist and Druid origins to be more widely celebrated in VM? I think so.