At last–they’re finally here!!! Spring has officially come to Funehiki, and the cherry blossoms are at last in full, glorious bloom. Jen and I have been waiting for months for this day to come, and now that it’s here, it feels like a dream come true. Now we’re really in Japan!

For those of you who don’t know, cherry blossoms are huge in Japanese culture. In fact, they’re so huge that they’re probably among the “big three” most important symbols of Japan (alongside Mt. Fuji and the rising sun). Because they only bloom for a week or two and then fall to the ground, they’ve often been used as a symbol of the transience of life, and the fleeting nature of beauty and happiness. In fact, for many of Japan’s great writers, the sight of cherry blossoms evokes intense sadness and a longing for a more stable existance. Indeed, without the promise of eternal life, even spring (the season of new life) can become a poignant reminder of the brevity of life and the immanence of decay.

But, even with all that said, most Japanese people just see the cherry blossoms as pretty flowers to be admired, and cherry blossom season is a season for getting out and viewing as many cherry blossom trees as possible. Friends, familes, and groups of all kinds will organize hanami [lit. flower-viewing] parties, and whether you’re at the office or just hanging out with friends, the #1 topic of conversation nowadays is, ” So, have you seen any cherry blossoms yet?” Some places (like Koriyama City) have lively cherry blossom festivals, filling the streets with food vendors and throngs of eager spectators. And even here in Funehiki, places that used to be of zero interest have become havens for eager flower-viewers and ambitious amatuer photographers (like us).

Allow us to share some of our best shots with you…

Cherry Blossoms 1

This picture was taken just outside our apartment, on the bank of the river that we see several times each day. It used to just be a river bank with some old trees, and now it’s been transformed into a place of exquisite beauty. It’s funny; sometimes you don’t know what incredible blessings there are right in your backyard. If you look closely, you can actually see a local family having their hanami party on the opposite bank.

Cherry Blossoms 2

A close-up of the tiny little petals that occupy such a huge place in the minds and hearts of the Japanese people. Even for us, scenes like this are really moving. They speak volumes of the beauty and wisdom of the Creator whose hand fashions each and every one.

Cherry Blossoms 3

I (Mike) saw this scene on my way home from work, and I was so awestruck that I ran home to get my camera before I lost my chance to capture this image on film. Not that you’d ever be able to see it, but our house is hidden somewhere underneath the glow of the sun in this picture. Again, usually this is just another everyday place, but it’s been completely transformed into something really special and magical.

Cherry Blossoms 4

As if the blossoms themselves weren’t pretty enough, the local neighborhood association went around stringing up colorful lanterns all around town. While this shot was taken during dusk, we can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful they are at night; it’s simply breathtaking. In fact, the sight of cherry blossoms at night illuminated by lantern-light is far and away the most romantic sight that either of us have ever seen. Amazing…

Wakakusa Team Night Cherry Blossom Viewing

Lastly, here’s a spontaneous group shot of all 12 of us English teachers standing under a random cherry tree. We were just on our way to dinner to celebrate Benno’s birthday, saw some pretty lanterns, and somehow this shot materialized. It captures the unique flavor that our team brings to this town–who would have thought that Funehiki would ever see 12 Westerners getting their pictures taken under illuminated cherry blossom petals? 🙂 (Team members: a high-res copy is available upon request.)

Friends and family in America, we wish that you all could be here with us, seeing these things and just soaking up cherry blossom season in Japan. But we hope that though our pictures and words that you’ve been able to get a taste of what it’s like.

Viva the adventure!

-Mike & Jen