Many people associate Japan with blooming sakura cherry blossoms, and in the beginning of April thousands of tourists visit Japan to see them. I’ve already written about hanami - the custom of admiring sakura and since visiting Japan, I became interested in the origins of this tree and the legends associated with it.
For the Japanese, blooming sakura represents the transience and fragility of life. A person lives their life in the same way as a sakura petals falls - beautifully and quickly. Sakura flowers are considered the abode of the souls of the ancestors, so to look at flowers is to look at one's ancestors, to remember them. Naturally, there are many stories associated with this.
Rocks & petals
The mountain deity Oho-yama had two daughters - the elder Iwa (Rock) and the younger Saku (Blooming). One day, the deity Ninigi descended from heaven to marry one of the daughters. Ninigi chose the younger one. He called the older one ugly and sent her to her father. Oho-yama became angry and announced a sentence: the life of all of the descendants of Iwa would be solid and eternal, like rocks; the descendants of Saku, though, from the Emperor to the most common person, would be as short as a spring bloom. When Saku died, a beautiful tree grew on her grave, which was named 'sakura'.
Another legend tells about how a tree suddenly bloomed. Once upon a time, the gods decided to remove a Tree that had never bloomed, but first they gave it 20 years, during which it could turn into a human being and experience human feelings. There was a war occurring and Tree didn't see anything good until it met a beautiful girl. They fell in love with each other, and the tree admitted that it was a tree. The girl also wanted to become a tree, and they became one - sakura, blooming with beautiful flowers.
I've come across sakura with white, pink and even almost red-coloured flowers. The legend of the pink flower, though, is quite sad. On the orders of a cruel ruler, a woman with children was tied to a tree trunk and flogged to death. The pink rose petals of the sakura tree became reminders of innocent victims...
The samurai sakura
The ancient Yo-roku sakura is the cherry blossom that blooms on the sixteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar in February. The soul of a samurai lives in that tree. Once, a sakura tree grew in his garden and bloomed at the usual time. He played under the tree as a child and knew that his parents and all his ancestors played there too. As he grew, he found that he outlived his children and the only thing that remained dear to him in the world was that sakura tree.
The following summer, the tree began to wither before dying. The old samurai fell ill with grief; nothing could compensate for his loss. On the sixteenth day of the first moon, he went out into the garden, bowed to the dry trunk and pleaded: "I beg you, take my life and start blooming again!" Then, spreading a white cover under the tree, he sat down in a ritual pose and ended his life. As he died, his soul moved into the tree and it instantly bloomed. So it happened - the sakura blooming every year, on the sixteenth day of the first lunar month, during the snow season.
Whether admiring the sakura in popular locations or in the quieter places where you can enjoy sakura in peace and tranquility, comprehending and absorbing the spirit of Japan through these stories really enhances the experience.