The other night I went with a couple of friends to Kokuryo, in western Tokyo, to see the special one-night light up of cherry blossoms along the Nogawa river. The trees in their glory are lit in a stunning display that is breathtakingly magical.
I had gone last year as well, it had been the evening of the entrance ceremony at school, and I was nervous about what the coming year would bring. My friend (my sempai, or student senior to me) reassuring me that I could handle what I was about to undertake. This year as we walked slowly along the path - dodging small children, slow moving elderly women, older men with huge cameras, and young women waving cell phone cameras - I found myself thinking about the past year, and the year to come. As an announcement was made over the PA that it was almost 9 pm and the lights would be turned off shortly, my sempai turned to me and said "I look forward to coming back next year with you!" I smiled but reminded her I didn't even know if I'd be in the country in 11 months. Again she reassured me, but I found myself wondering whether I would be able to see the stunning display again next year, and generally what the coming year would bring.
With this train of thought, it was quite fitting then, that as 9 pm approached, the strains of "Auld Lang Syne"* came over the PA system and slowly, one by one, the huge lights were extinguished. My friends and I had paused near the half-way point of the display, to watch the lights go out. We were lucky enough to see a incredible display, however, as the section where we had stopped was also equipped with huge spot lights that had coloured lights, and the blossom-laden trees were suddenly purple, then white again, then blue, and then pink, and orange... It was beautiful. At one point the trees became a mass of waving light, and then at the end the orange spots were concentrated at the centre of the trees which suddenly appeared as if on fire at the core. It was stunning and the watching crowd broke into applause when the lights finally went out.
*(At the end of the day at the museum where I work, and any number of other museums/businesses/restaurants/whatever in Japan, closing will be announced over a PA system. There will be a ten or fifteen minute warning accompanied by the strains of a song, that to a Westerner, brings up champagne clouded thoughts of New Year's celebrations. In Japan "Auld Lang Syne" signifies not the end of the year, but the end of the business day.)
In Japan cherry blossoms are said to represent a truly Japanese love of transient beauty. As the height of blossoms in Tokyo was this past weekend, the petals have started falling. The museum where I work is situated in a park famous for its sakura. When I went for lunch today petals were falling with every light gust of wind, settling in people's hair and carpeting the ground in pale pink snow. Transience was certainly in evidence and I found myself thinking again about the start of a new year...