The Japanese festival Hanami is symbolic of a change in season. But, whether in ancient time or now, whether in Japan or not, the festival is also an opportunity to renew or create bonds. Hanami Festival in Washington D.C: diverse groups gathered to marvel at the beautiful cherry flowers. (Image from cherryblossomwatch.com)
Japan, a cluster of islands covered mostly with mountains and volcanoes, is the world biggest automobile producer, the birth place of karaoke and sumo wrestling. Japan is also known for one event that takes place each year and brings together people from all corners of the country and the world: the Hanami festival.
It all began in during the eighth century in Japan, when the emperor at the time would host art demonstration sessions under various trees. China being the biggest empire at the time, every standard of beauty was modeled from the Chinese standards. One of those standards was the recitation of poems inspired by the unique presentation and fragrance of plum blossoms. Throughout time, many flowers like wisteria, peach blossoms and cherry blossoms inspired songs, paintings and poems among the aristocrats or the era. However, with the rise to power of samurai in the early 12th century, cherry blossoms had become the preferred flowers; and the word Hanami which originally meant “watching the blooming flowers” became associated with observing the cherry blossoms.
During the samurais’ era, the leaders made it a point to spread the cherry trees across the land starting with mausoleums, and other places where people gathered; giving the opportunity to even the lower class to enjoy the unique flowers. The cherry blossoms were favored over other tree flowers because they came later in spring and lasted longer, up to five weeks blooming. Regardless of the time of the day, the color of the flowers stood out. The flowers reminded people that the most beautiful things were to be enjoyed and appreciated as long as they lasted, making the cherry blossoms the perfect activity to spent time with loved ones.Now, Cherry blossoms don’t bring people together only in Japan.
In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, donated to the city of Washington D.C 3,000 cherry trees to celebrate the great rapport existing between Japan and United States. It was the first lady Helen Herron Taft who received the trees at the time, and since then every first lady has hosted a ceremony of planting cherry trees to remind all of the long-lasting bonds between the US and Japan. That tradition is now bringing together the people of America and around the world, as a symbol of diversity. This year, the festival took a different turn in Japan. One of the main sites to offer a flower show for the Hanami festival each year, the Fukuoka- Dazaifu Tenmangu Shinto shrine decided to surprise the visitor with what they believe is a representation of the future of the festival.
Hanami 2050: screens are hidden in foliage to mimic blooming flowers.
The shrine featured videos of different flower arrangements inspired by the cherry blossoms blooming. The screens displaying the videos were strategically placed among real foliage. The art is the work of a Danish floral designer Nicolai Bergmann. The exhibition, named Hanami 2050, could be a reflection on how technology has inundated our lives and might take over even the most beautiful and innocent event in nature. However, the flowers in this exhibition were as unique as the cherry blossoms, which certainly got visitors thinking of the movements that lead to the flowers appearing every year almost at the same time. The exhibition will also remind visitors of the history behind the Hanami festival, as the Fukuoka/Dazaifu shrine could be built on the grave of one of those poets who used plum blossoms as inspiration.
While Bergmann is trying to bring the traditional past into the digital future, the festival has not changed much across the world or even in Japan. Everywhere flowers blossomed on a cherry tree, Japanese gather with friends, family and colleagues. Hanami is no longer about poems and artistic expression. Today, the festival exists to bring communities together. Therefore, as long as humans will populate the planet, the tradition will persist. Technology might come into play to connect those who live far from their loved ones.
Have a story tip? Message me at: cabe(at)element14(dot)com