Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why I'm Glad That Cherry Trees Can't Read

--Susan, every other Sunday

I've been in Tokyo for a week, to sign and await the filing of my visa application. If it's granted, I'll return to Japan in May (along with my husband and our two cats) to spend the next year living, writing, and climbing mountains in Japan.

I had to come over now, despite chemotherapy, because of the Japanese immigration rules. Long story short, I had to be here personally when my visa application was filed, and I had to come this week because I'm in between chemo treatments.

My oncologist approved the trip, and supplied me with a list of restrictions: avoid public transit, avoid crowded spaces, outdoor activities only whenever possible, and wear a face mask at all times. (I'm allowed to remove it at restaurants, while eating.)

When I booked my flight I noticed the sakura (cherry blossom) forecast (yes, it's a real thing--and an important one in Japan) called for the Tokyo blossoms to appear on March 22 or 23. Sakura last only a day or two, and the forecast is highly accurate, so I resigned myself to missing them yet again.

I've longed to see cherry blossoms in Japan since I learned about them in kindergarten. One of my fellow students was the daughter of a Japanese couple on sabbatical in the United States. Her name was Yoko, and our teacher (shout out to Mrs. McConnell) used Yoko's presence as an opportunity to teach the rest of us a bit about Japan, including the importance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture. 

Forty years and multiple trips to Japan later, I was still waiting to see them in person.

This morning, I took advantage of the lovely, if chilly weather and headed off to the Imperial Palace Gardens.

Ruins of Edo Castle, Imperial Palace Grounds

Last December, I started what I plan to be a four-season photo shoot at the Imperial Palace Gardens, and today I set out to shoot "spring"--minus the cherry blossoms, of course, though I hoped I might find a single early flower.

Unlikely, but a girl can hope.

The gardens were lovely. The plum trees and flowering hedges were in bloom:

Yellow flowering hedges. Not sure what kind.
And some of the other flowering trees were also budding.

Sadly, not a cherry tree.

Although the gardens have many cherry trees - including a large grove near the ruins of Edo Castle, they showed no sign of the world-famous flowers.

At least, almost all of them showed no sign.

Someone didn't read the forecast.

As we approached the castle ruins, I noticed an explosion of pale pink at the far end of the cherry grove. A single tree had blossomed - most likely, this morning - its branches covered in pale, delicate flowers. A lifelong dream fulfilled at last:

Cherry blossoms in bloom, Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo

Cherry blossoms last, at most, a couple of days. Their impermanence, and the fact that they fall and die at the height of their transitory beauty, are part of what makes them such an important and enduring symbol of life. In Japan, the sakura is a reminder that life is breathtakingly beautiful, tragically short, fragile as gossamer, and to be loved and appreciated at every moment.

After waiting for more than forty years, I have finally seen the sakura in bloom - and the experience was worth every minute of the wait.

The forecast said I could not hope to see a cherry blossom in Tokyo today, but fortunately, cherry trees can't read. As a point of note: dreams and fortune don't read forecasts either. They come to those who pursue them, despite the odds.

If you had told me a year ago that I'd be planning a sabbatical move to Japan, to pursue my dream of climbing the hundred famous peaks and writing instead of practicing law for a year, I'd have told you it was impossible.

As impossible as cherry trees blooming too early.

Which only goes to show you that the impossible might not really be that impossible after all.


  1. Dearest, I was sitting next to a fellow historical mystery writer at your panel a year and half ago in New Orleans. You were being you usual self for the audience. He turned to me and said, "Isn't she marvelous!" "You have that right," I said.

    YOU ARE!

  2. Wonderful! And one of these days you timing will match with the forecast and you can check if most of the trees can actually read.

  3. Of course it bloomed for you, Susan. That was it's purpose--to show you how much the ancients appreciate your serving as their span to the present.

    PS. The yellow blooms look like forsythia.