The Japanese have a unique approach to the changing seasons. A visit there a few years ago completely changed my view of how to appreciate the environment around us, reawakening my love of the changes that come with the seasons, and heightening my awareness of the beauty of those first simple blossoms that herald the fresh start of spring.
I was in Kyoto with work, by pure chance having arrived at the height of the cherry blossom season. This luck meant I was treated to an amazing display of rampant cherry blossom, accompanied by rampant humanity in the form of literally thousands of Japanese who had travelled to Kyoto to enjoy the spectacle.
Normally when I travel, I prefer to enjoy new places alone, in peace and quiet, and ideally not surrounded by hordes of tourists. This was different somehow, as I became just one of many walking along the Philosopher’s Path (a riverside walk where the entire length of the waterway is graced by cherry blossoms). I discovered a totally unexpected pleasure, not just in seeing the cherry blossom in a totally different way to how I had viewed blossom before, but also in enjoying other people’s reaction to the sight, which enhanced my own enjoyment in a way I would never have imagined.
I noticed people taking the time to minutely examine the delicate blossoms (known as Hanami, literally, flower viewing), pointing out the most spectacular trees to their companions, and this reminded me to look more closely at this overwhelming and gratuitous display of nature. They were also welcoming to a foreigner, one elderly man took the time to share his photographs with me, inviting me to view the shots he had already taken and to enjoy the close-ups he was preparing in minute detail, all without a word of shared language, other than a shared fascination in the display before us.
The Japanese revel in this time, celebrating with friends and family in the parks. I was invited to participate in one such party, with free flowing wine and food, and made to feel extremely welcome. The park was full of food stalls, with unusual delicacies (fish on a stick, anyone?) and wishes for good fortune tied to trees. I was also lucky enough to see some trainee geisha (maiko) in their full regalia, a magnificent sight, enjoying Hanami as much as the tourists.
After enjoying the cherry blossom whilst I was in Kyoto, I realised I had become a little bit hooked. Throughout the rest of my trip I was on the look-out for that elusive pink flower, which became more rare as the trip went on, the cherry blossom season lasting only a short period of time. The Japanese enjoy the beauty of the flowers, but also use this as a time to reflect on their fleeting nature, comparing this to the fleeting nature of life itself, so many feel a sense of melancholy as they indulge in Hanami, mixed in with the celebrations of the change in season.
The experience has stayed with me, every spring I take especial pleasure in seeing the tree blossoms around us, in a way that I had never felt before. Spring feels like a fresh start, more so than January with its resolutions that seem to be broken so quickly. I love being taken back to nature, and reminded that our natural environment can provide more pleasure and give a greater uplift to the spirits than almost anything else in life.
We’d love to know what reawakened you to the environment around you.