The petals of our tears

Namida no hanabiratachi ga harahara

The blooming of the sakura trees in Japan is a joyful, yet bittersweet moment, as they, in a very real way mark the passage of time.  The passage of time is both a time for new beginnings, and bittersweet goodbyes.  Sometimes goodbyes are temporary, sometimes they are permanent, and sometimes they are final.

Goodbyes are often accompanied by tears, as tears are often associated with loss.  It is an unfortunate consequence of life that loss is unavoidable, but it never hurts any less, does it?

In this time of pandemic we are having to deal with more loss than most of us have in our entire life, and many of us don’t know how to deal with it.  It causes tears, it causes anxiety, and sometimes worse, as everything we know falls apart in front of us.  Some of us don’t know where our next meal is coming from, as government bumbles around incompetently with little information and even less idea of what the right thing is.

sakura no hanabiratachi ga saku koro
dokoka de dareka ga kitto inotteru
atarashii sekai no DOA wo
jibun no sono te de hiraku koto

But often with loss comes opportunity, as clearing out the old brings opportunity that may not have existed, for those that can allow the tears to fall, to splash on the ground, and ultimately to dry, forgotten about.  Tears contain the essence of that which we leave behind.  Tears must be shed, and sometimes copiously, but they are no longer a part of us once they leave, and ultimately, we move on without them.

Our tears fall to the ground like sakura petals, and for much the same reason.  As the cherry trees must shed their petals to make room for next year’s beautiful display, so must we shed out tears to make room for that which lies ahead of us.  Sometimes what lies ahead of us are more tears – and sometimes many more tears.  But sometimes the tears will dry, and the door will open, and we will see the vast expanse of what is waiting for us as we leave our tears behind.

The petals of our tears fall to the ground with little splashes, yes.  They will fall, and we will see them on the ground like little drops of dew, the sun reflecting from them as they dry, and

kono hoho wo nagareochite arukidasu
aoi sora wo miage ookiku

If you look to the sky, the tears are already forgotten.

Namida no hanabiratachi ga harahara

空気

I’m going to try a different approach to posting today.  Let me know if you like it.

I have never been to Japan, but many things come to mind when I think of it.  I imagine the crisp air of fujisan.  The roar of trains, such as the shinkansen, as they come whooshing by.  The fragrant smells of sakura petals as they fall to the ground in spring.  The greenery of a small island nation that gets more than its share of rain, and the fragrant smells of grasses and blossoms on the hills, meshing seamlessly with the smell of traditional Japanese food, such as fish and rice.  Even the tall buildings of Tokyo seem to come with a certain kind of refreshing energy that I haven’t really found in American downtown cores.  Of course this is all in my imagination, but I’m not talking about reality.

I also see the darkness of a culture that values conformity over individuality.  I see a darkness that is difficult to fathom for me, a society that seems to have a lot of very flashy lights, amazing culture and food, and underneath is a vein of darkness that takes your breath away when you even begin to see it for what it is.

In my mind, Japan is a very beautiful, and a very dark, country.  Both the beauty and the darkness sometimes bring tears, and each defines Japan completely in its own way.  I don’t think Japan would be entirely the same without its darkness, just as it would not be the same without its beauty.

But to understand Japan, one must understand its darkness.  Yes, one must appreciate the wonderful things about Japanese culture – their almost boundless creativity, their respect for living things and the land around them, their ability to persevere and even triumph in the face of what seem sometimes insurmountable odds – but to see Japan through the eyes of their entertainment and tourism industry is to completely misunderstand who they are.

As I learn more I have come to respect them for what they are, and I’ve also come to a profound sadness.  They are an ancient and beautiful culture, and to solely define them through the entertainment they present to the world is to disrespect them profoundly.  To truly love something, or someone, you must understand their failings as well.  It is a profoundly sad thing when you realize that the person – or culture – that you love is flawed, imperfect – even profoundly so – but until one understands the warts, one cannot truly love.

This has been a difficult thing for me to grapple with as I’ve been studying Japanese and learning about the Japanese culture.  The veins of darkness are very dark indeed.  But even so, I am not too different from them, and they are not too different from me.  The darkness runs through all humanity, not always taking the same form, but being just as dark all the same.

Maybe someday I will see the beautiful white and red trees with the sakura petals falling, and I will remember that, for the Japanese people, the blooming of the cherry trees indicates graduation, the passing of time, and new beginnings.  And I will remember that the darkness does not have to stay dark, and the next year, the petals will also bloom, no matter what the previous year has brought.  And I will see all of the people hanami, and perhaps they will have a similar thought.  They are constrained by their darkness, but they are not defined by it.

And perhaps, not just in spite of their darkness, but because of it, I will grow to love them.

Sunday Song #4: Sakura No Hanabiritachi (AKB48)

I haven’t written one of these for a while, and this one’s a little late.  I have some good excuses which you don’t care about, but if you knew them, you’d agree that they’re good, so we’ll just leave it at that.

This is an interesting song.  Its first few bars of introduction are really catchy and high energy – they actually remind me of an 80s or 90s song.  In fact, that’s how I found this song, because they kept playing that intro on AKBingo and I liked it enough that I wondered what song it belonged to.

This is a song about endings and beginnings.  As I have mentioned, the sakura (or cherry tree) seems to have a significance to Japanese culture, and at least in the way it’s usually used in J-Pop songs, as a marker of time.  For the sakura blossoms only for a few days a year, and then they all fall off, waiting for the next year to come around.

This is a sweet and sad song, about graduation from school and heading into adulthood.  That’s an experience that, for many reasons, I never really had, but it seems that in this song they are trying to capture the bittersweet feelings that must come with that kind of an event.  As the petals drop from the cherry tree, so does one stage of life end and another begin.

The petals of these tears go pitter-patter
On these cheeks they come out, flow, and fall
As we look up to the blue sky
And breathe in deeply
The petals of these tears go pitter-patter
Memories of that part make me happy
The stairs to adulthood before our eyes
Together we climb and wave our hands

This is something I’ve really grown to appreciate about J-Pop.  It can be very sweet and saccharine, it can be fun and mindless, it can be sweet and sad, it can even be tragic, but there is a depth and poetry that is very much missing from western pop, and has been for many, many years.  It’s like, they want to sell albums, but they are also proud of what they produce.

What would it look like if we could take A-Pop (what I call American pop) and infuse a Japanese sense into it?  The sense of beauty that the Japanese have cultivated over thousands of years, and even now, manifests in a bunch of young girls and women dancing around in frilly, colorful (and sometimes downright loud) costumes and singing about things they may or may not understand?

What would it look like, indeed.  I’d like to know.  It would be nice if there was actually some “A-Pop” that one didn’t have to feel embarrassed to do anything but make fun of.

Sakura

Every year, around springtime, the cherry trees in Japan (sakura, or 桜) bloom. It’s only for a few days, and I’m to understand it is justifiably considered a national treasure.  People come from all over the world to see the beautiful blooming of the cherry trees, and there is much said in Japanese art and music about the cherry trees.  In fact, several AKB48 songs reference cherry trees, such as Sakura No Hanabiratchi, Sakura No Shiori, and maybe one of the more heartrending, Sakura no Ki Ni Narou:

I will turn into an eternal cherry tree
Yes, I won’t move from here
Even if you get lost on your heart’s path
I will stand here so that you know where love is

It is beautiful, yes.  But every place has its own sakura.  Here in Texas, it’s wildflowers and bluebonnets.  For a few days in spring here, the fields turn blue, sometimes as far as the eye can see, and it’s at least as beautiful as the sakura trees in Japan.  In my home state of Ohio, the lilac and mulberry trees would bloom, releasing their fragrance into the air as it mixes with the petrichor before a spring thunderstorm.

Japan is home to the Japanese, and the beauty of the sakura trees is something they treasure as a part of their culture, as the bluebonnets are as a part of where I live, and the spring thunderstorms and petrichor are as a part of mine.

We are the same people.  Separated by thousands of miles of ocean, a slightly different genetic makeup, cultures that have different markers of beauty, languages that come with different histories and base assumptions, yes.  But I’m willing to bet that a Japanese person who is in America remembers, for a few days each year, the sakura in their home country, and feel a sense of longing and loss.

For that is their home.

Sometimes I feel the same longing and loss for what was.  There are many things in my past that are now gone, and they will never be coming back.  Life marches on, time marches on, and eventually, somehow, we forget.

But the sakura trees do bloom every year.  The petals sprout, bloom, and fall to the ground.  And, for just a few days, I think the Japanese people remember that Japan is their home.

And it will never be mine.

And that is okay.  I have my own.  But I will learn their language.  I will learn about their culture.  And even if it is never home, even if I long to see the sakura as they see the sakura, I can be comforted that they also long to see the bluebonnets and wide open skies of Texas.

Someday, maybe, God or 神 willing, we will all get our wish.

こんばんわ, 私の日本の友達.  The cherry trees will bloom again.  And maybe, just maybe, someday I will show you the bluebonnets.  You are proud of your home.  Maybe I will show you mine.