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.