Sakura in Japanese culture

Sakura has always represented a distinct archetype in Japanese culture, in which the sacral and aesthetic elements met and sometimes even for the land of the rising sun so characteristically mixed. Sakura is related to the original Shinto religion for example in connection with the deity of rice (swordsmiths, geishas, merchants, etc.) Inari-sama. At the same time since the Heian period (794 - 1183) it has become an extremely strong aesthetic element praised by poets. A strong element of aesthetic emancipation can also be seen here, because in previous periods poetry rather praised the plum tree according to the Chinese model, which by the way still is the national tree of The Middle Kingdom. Sakura then has become the symbol of Japan, the national tree and in fact a flower which can also be found on the 100yen coin.
As per Professor Líman, the ornamental cherry trees were planted over graves in the past and "sakura no dani" - cherry blossom valley, was an old euphemism for a cemetery. This would evoke the famous shocking introduction to the novel by the poet and writer Motojiró Kaji "Under the cherry trees" (1901 - 1932), 

"Dead bodies are buried under the sakura trees!"

The ambiguity of the sakura's aesthetic meaning was in the Edo period (1603 - 1868) also expressed in the fact that some perceived it as a symbol of misfortune, as its blossoms always fall without warning. By the way, samurais perceived also camellia flower - tsubaki in the same way because its whole flower suddenly falls, just as a samurai can suddenly lose his head. Or the a swallow - tsubame, which swoops down quickly and unexpectedly like a calamity.
This certainly does not mean that sakuras, camellias and swallows do not have an a priori positive meaning in Japanese culture. A samurai saying goes that what is sakura among flowers is samurai among men. 花は桜木人的武士 And he is to lay down his life for his master as easily as a cherry blossom falls when its time comes.

After the courtiers-poets the warrior class of the samurai, whose elites were not only fearsome warriors but often also sensitive poets soon became interested in sakura as well. Taira no Tadanori, (1144 - 1184), the warlord and the governor of the Satsuma province, wrote this poem on the eve of the battle of Ichi no Tani, in which he met his death:

On his way caught by a dusk

I will spend the night in the shade of sakura.
Will my hosts today
this night be their flowers?


Cherry tree blossoms only bloom for a very short time which is why the element of transience is strongly incorporated into their aesthetics. As one writer said, "What would be interesting about cherry blossoms should they bloome forever?" After all, we can also find the connection between beauty and death in modern Japanese literature, for example in the novels of Yukio Mishima (1925 - 1970), who also ended his life commiting seppuku suicide as per his opinion and artistic conviction. Even death is aestheticized in the Japanese tradition. The Yokosuka MXY7 rocket suicide plane at the end of the World War II had an alternative name "oka'' (cherry blossom). Kamikaze pilots used this plane with a picture of sakura on the front of the fuselage to hit their target with a speed exceeding 900 kilometers per hour, quite surprising for a tiny flower.

Falling cherry blossoms sakurazame can also become hana fubuki 花吹雪, the simultaneous falling of a large number of petals, falling like snow. Even the urban culture of the "flowing world" ukijo took over the aesthetics of the meaning of sakura from the imperial court, samurai and erudite monks-poets, democratized it and integrated it into the context of urban dramas sewamono, kabuki theater and the world of entertainment districts. But the antithesis to the ephemeral of sakura is the element of eternity, given by the cyclicality of their "eternal return" every spring, or the realization that we feel continuity when for example reading a poem about cherry tree blossoms from the 10th century. That is one of the characteristic features of a mature culture.

The contrast between the trunk, a symbol of durability, and the ephemeral, although beautiful flowers, can also be found in the famous haiku of Matsuo Basho (1644 - 1694):
How much does it remember - the old cherry tree! さまざまの事おもひたます櫻かる.
Thanks to the vagueness of the Japanese language and the intended ambiguity of haiku poetry, the poem can also mean:
"How many memories brings back seeing a blooming sakura tree!"

Sakura has became a seasonal kigo word, introducing the poem to a certain time of a year. In this case to the late spring, around April. The cherry blossoms bloom in most of Japan, although the meridional distribution of the Japanese islands means that it is earlier in some parts of Nippon than the others. And it is the time when Hanami, the cherry blossoms festival has been held for centuries.

The term Hanami literally means "gazing at cherry blossoms'' and it refers to the ancient yet still alive Japanese custom of sitting under cherry tree blossoms and admiring their beauty. In the past, poems were sometimes written on the occasion, sake was drunk or a tea ceremony was held. Hanami now is an opportunity for an open-air picnic with family or friends.

A festival inspired by Hanami recently took place in Prague. Allow me to elaborate.