03 April 2019 by Roy Preece
In Taiwan, ornamental cherries bloom from February to mid- April. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau lists many sites where tourists can go to enjoy spectacular views of hundreds and even thousands of cherry trees in bloom. It is a sort of unofficial festival.
This attractive custom of gazing on the beauty of the trees in flower and revering their beauty is known as ‘Hanami’ and is inherited from Taiwan’s neighbour, Japan.
Through the wild cherry-blooms that snow
Yamato’s hills with petals fair,
The shining morning sun-rays glow:
Will you not come and see them there?
Although Taiwan was a colony of Japan for the first 50 years of the twentieth century, the mutual feelings are on the whole friendly. Two traditional images of Japan are of snow-capped Mount Fuji and cherry blossom. Among other things, Japan introduced Hanami to Taiwan. The official flower of Taiwan is the closely related plum blossom which is seen on government symbols, stamps and banknotes. But the Taiwanese have taken the cherry blossom to their hearts in a big way.
The cherry blossom links yet another small offshore island to those of Taiwan and Japan – England! How did this come about? In Japan, in the early twentieth century the decline of traditional estates, industrialisation and urban growth, and the need to grow more food for a growing population all threatened the cherry trees of Japan. The main variety was liable to disease and little was done to conserve the cherries.
Before the terrible events of World War II there had been much friendly cultural exchange between England and Japan. Designs for ornaments and gardens from this time often show Japanese influence; indeed the influential Art Noveau style is said to have been inspired by Japanese forms. An English botanist, Collingwood Ingram, -- later known as ‘Cherry’ Ingram – travelled widely in Japan collecting cherry specimens which he preserved and cultivated on his estate in England. He also bred many new varieties. Some he took back to Japan and encouraged a revival of cherry tree planting there.
In England, the ‘Japanese Cherries’ have become favourite plants for gardens and urban parks, though they are considered to be out of place in the English countryside where larger, more handsome, long-lived trees are preferred. Many of the cherry varieties have Japanese names such as ‘Amanagowa’, ‘Shiroti oku’, ‘Miyako’, and ‘Kansan’. The English do not make such an event of seeing the cherries in bloom, but there are websites which list sites where you can see them.
There are many Japanese poems about the cherry blossom. Today it is perhaps the pink and red cherry blossoms that people like best, but most poems refer to the white flowers of the wild cherry, ‘like snow’. The appreciation of cherry blossom in poetry goes back at least 1000 years. The poems often convey that sense of separation from loved ones or from home which is found also in Chinese poetry, where officials in that vast country were often away for long periods. The poems here are from an English book published in 1910 whose editors desired ‘... above all things that, in their humble way, these books shall be ambassadors of good will and understanding between East and West.’
O cherry-blossom loved so well,
If you do not forget your lord,
Absent from you this April-time,
Send me your fragrant message stored
In the safekeeping of the breeze,
Blowing towards me! Flowers adored,
I think of you!
By Sugawara Adaijin