Thousands of people gather in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo, to picnic under blooming cherry blossom trees during Japan’s annual flower-viewing celebration.
By Gulnaz Khan
Photographs by Albert Bonsfills
Every spring a tapestry of pink blooms blankets the island nation of Japan, starting in the south and crawling northward. Cherry trees, or sakura, symbolize the evanescence of human life in Japanese culture—their blossoms are both brilliant and brief.
In Tokyo, urban dwellers emerge from their homes and offices to take pause underneath the fleeting bloom, their daylong celebrations stretching into the night.
“They serve as a visual reminder of how precious and how precarious life is,” says photographer Albert Bonsfills, who captured the exuberant spirit of hanami, one of Japan’s oldest and most revered traditions.
Hanami, or flower-viewing celebrations, date back to the 9th century when Japanese emperors held viewing parties with their courts. According to folklore, the mountain deity traveled to rice paddies on floating cherry blossom petals and nurtured the crop. Thus, a long bloom became synonymous with a fruitful harvest. Because of this relationship to rice—which sustained human life—the tree was regarded as sacred. They decorated the armor of samurai, were tucked into the elaborately folded hairstyles of geisha, and graced the scrolls of poets.
But the symbolism behind Japan’s most iconic flower is complex and mutable. As the country underwent internal and external transformation, the cherry blossom’s meaning also evolved.
Falling petals—once a quotidian symbol of birth, death, and rebirth—transformed into a nationalist icon during Japanese colonial expansion. In 1912, Japan gifted more than 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a gesture of friendship and political alliance. They were planted along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C., which now shares the yearly blossom-viewing tradition.
During World War II the flower was once again reborn as a military symbol. Tokkotai (kamikaze) pilots took to the skies with branches affixed to their uniforms and a single blossom painted on each side of their planes: A motif of their final flight and sacrifice to the emperor. Trees were planted at military shrines and throughout Japan—their falling petals a reminder of the fallen soldiers.
Today over 200 species of cherry blossom trees cloak the archipelago of Japan. Though they’ve carried different meanings throughout the ages, they continue to bring communities together year after year under a common one: to celebrate Japan’s most beloved flower.
top: Falling petals dance through the air, signaling the end of cherry blossom season.
bottot: Fallen petals blanket the ground in Inokashira Park, which is considered one of Tokyo’s most precious green spaces.
A security guard patrols Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The park’s security monitors the area for smoking and alcoholic beverages, which are forbidden in the park.
Top: Girls lay down on their picnic blanket during a hanami celebration in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.
Right: A group of friends dance under the cherry blossom trees during a hanami party in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.
Top : A Chinese tourist poses among the cherry blossoms in Chidorigafuchi, a moat located northwest of the Tokyo Imperial Palace.
bottom : A visitor pauses in front of a blooming tree in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo.
Pink petals blanket the surface of Inokashira Lake, Tokyo.
Albert Bonsfills is a photographer based in Tokyo. Follow him on Instagram @albertbonsfills
Source : Via