Cherry blossoms in Japan

More than three decades ago when we lived in Calgary, Magellan and I thought we’d go to Japan in the spring for the sakura (桜), the Japanese word for cherry blossoms derived from saku , which means to bloom. I even studied Japanese in anticipation. For some reason that I don’t recall, we didn’t go. How foolish we were to even think we had to travel that far for hanami—viewing cherry blossoms—you only need to go as far west as Vancouver, which now has its own Sakura Festival every April. Since April is also National Poetry Month, we’ve curated a collection of our favourite sakura haikus, adding Spice’s own attempt as well.

Ancient Sakura Haikus

For thousands of years In Japan, the gentle sakura has symbolized the ephemeral beauty and transience in the passage of of life. The Japanese have a very evocative word for this: mikkaminumanosakura—change that happens suddenly and intensely, like cherry blossoms that go from full bloom to scattered in a brief space of time. An entire vocabulary exists for their beloved spring ritual of hanami. Swirling cherry blossoms are likened to a snowstorm and called sakura-fubuki. A gentle spring rain during hanami is called hana-no-ami, flower rain. The Japanese make pilgrimages to their favourite hanami spots and the sakura season is still the country’s busiest time for tourism.

Jôha (1602)

no wind, either
for the blossoming of
an open mind


Kôyû (1645)

cherry blossoms
they surprise you twice
coming and going


Naokata (1680)

blowing afresh
the blossom wind plays
a leaf of flute


Seibi (1748-1816)

my thoughts
covered with petals


Hyakuga (1773)

blossoms with
all that beauty show us
how to fall


Basô (1777)

the eyes, blossoms riot
in my heart


Chora (1780)

how still it is
the sound of petals
sifting down together


Tayojo (1775-1865)

cherry blossoms
I view knowing there must be
something more


Issa (1827)

cherries in bloom
one at a time shows off
its bravery


Shiki (1896)

cherry blossoms
scattering in the breeze
a million breaths

Sakura in Vancouver

We were astounded when we moved to Vancouver twenty-one years ago to find our neighbourhood lined with various varieties of cherry trees, each one blooming at a different time. (There are fifty-three different cultivars in the city, most of them ornamental.) Many of Vancouver’s 43,000 cherry trees originated as gifts from Japan. The cherry trees that line the street behind us “take their time to dress;” they’re the last in the city to turn confetti pink, a bittersweet bloompeak.

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival began in 2006 and has grown to include all sorts of community events. Some of the Japanese restaurants even have special sakura cocktails, sushi, rolls and desserts on their menus. It’s a treat we indulge in when we’re not celebrating the season at Casa Magellan and Spice with scallop/sakura nigiri or petal-pink macarons (which I will leave to pastry chefs) made with Sakura Extract.

In addition to meaning “to bloom,” saku can also mean ” to smile,” which certainly happens when the season’s first sakura decorate the cherry trees after their rain-beaten Vancouver winter. We smile. But my favourite time is near the end when petals swirl and scatter, soundlessly floating to the ground into a spring bed of sakura snow.

Spice (2019)

afloat, a pink petal falls
softly, soundless as a feather
down for a blossomy bed


Gill, Robin D. Cherry Blossom Epiphany. USA: Paraverse Press, 2007. The Poetry and Philosophy of a Flowering Tree, a Theme in Praise of Olde Haiku, with Many More Poems and Fine Elaboration are the subtitles—fully explaining this 720-page volume of sakura wonderment. Each of the ancient haikus above is from Robin’s book, which includes various translations and reworkings of original verse.

For more info on Vancouver’s Cherry Blossom Festival, connect here.

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