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12th March 2012
Twelve months after a tsunami devastated Japan, associate web editor Peter Moore celebrates the country's enduring ability to rebound and renew
There is a cherry blossom tree that stands alone on a tiny patch of dirt near a gaijin house in Kiba.
I didn’t notice it for the first three months I lived in Tokyo. I‘d arrived in the depths of winter and scurried to work with my head down against the inclement weather. Even if I had lifted my eyes I doubt I would have seen it. It was spindly and bare and camouflaged against the dark worn slats of the wooden houses.
As spring approached my students chattered excitedly of the sakura zensen, the cherry blossom front, sweeping up from the southern islands of Japan. They watched its progress on the evening news, speculating when it would reach Tokyo and the hanami, picnicking, would begin. The tree near my home began to bud but I was too distracted by the neon and noise of the Pachinko parlour across the way to pay particular mind.
Then, one warm evening in April, I finally noticed it. Or to be more precise, I noticed a man sitting under the cherry tree waving a bottle of sake at me. He introduced himself as Hiro, a salaryman with a small electronics manufacturer nearby. He couldn’t speak much English. I couldn’t speak much Japanese. But with sake at least we thought we could.
The tree was heavy with sakura blossoms and covered with festive lanterns. I sat with Hiro and his family – a wife and small son – eating rice snacks, drinking sake and gazing up at the kaleidoscope of pink above me. We sang songs and played games and drank far too much rice wine, but for an hour or so at least, the world seemed exquisitely perfect.
The tree was small so families from the neighbourhood took turns to picnic under it. Each evening a different man waving a different bottle of sake would call me over to join him. Kotaro, the bank manager, with a daughter dressed like a doll. Takashi, the mechanic, and his two unruly sons. Yoshi, the retired factory worker, and his yappy terrier that chased the blossoms as they fell. Each knew that this moment of fragile beauty was transient and were determined that I should make the most of it.
Just when I didn‘t think I could drink another shot of sake or eat another agemochi, the blossoms scattered and the parties stopped. The tree stood abandoned and I returned to the room I shared with nine other foreigners, sober and sad, humming ‘I was a Kamikaze Pilot’ by the Hoodoo Gurus, the only song I knew that mentioned cherry blossoms.
Over summer the tree’s canopy cast a handkerchief of shade, enough for Yoshi’s panting terrier to escape the searing heat. But soon those leaves fell too. The tree faded into the background again, invisible to all except the odd sparrow looking for a perch.
As autumn closed and winter approached, I ran into Kotaro on his way home from the bank. We spoke of the hanami and I reminisced about the cherry blossoms, perhaps a little too wistfully.
‘They will come again,’ he assured me. ‘The sakura always do.‘
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A poignant piece of writing, beautifully written. I have a glorious cherry tree in my back garden and when it's at its full glory its magnificant. The problem is the blossom doesn't last long.
But as you say, Spring always returns - even to Japan!
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