The Cherry Blossom Festival, known as Hanami in Japan, is a custom thousands of years old. It is celebrated all over Japan when the cherry trees begin to bloom. In fact, the festival is running at the time I’m posting this article! As the pretty flowers last only a few days a year, it is a perfect opportunity for families and friends to gather and party. It is a time of excitement and beauty as the trees bloom.
The imagery of falling cherry blossoms is one that can be found throughout the anime universe. The meaning behind these falling white-to-coral petals evokes can run from the renewal of life to the fragility of beauty to love and death. New beginnings are a common theme for the image of the Cherry Blossom Festival. I want to share with you some of my favorite cherry blossom moments from anime. I hope that they will help you to connect to the beautiful etherealness of these petals. Maybe it will inspire you to sit beneath a cherry tree and share a picnic with friends.
Spoiler warning: As always, I’ll do my best to keep the spoilers to a minimum. However, a few are necessary and the cost of doing business while I share with you, my readers.
Cherry Blossom: 5 Centimeters per Second
This 3-part movie is an obvious selection. The title is referencing the speed at which cherry blossoms fall. This story reflects heavily on romance unfulfilled. Just as love blooms in the springtime of youth, it can wilt and fall away when the natural order of time marches on. The cherry blossoms bloom and fall away; Takaki and Akari share a kiss then drift apart. These characters share the existence of these transient blooms. All they want to do is bloom together again, yet reality doesn’t allow us to be reborn like the cherry blossoms.
Cherry Blossom: Your Lie in April
If you thought #thefeels were over, you’d be wrong. Your Lie in April will tug on your heartstrings at a rate greater than 5 centimeters per second. Kousei meets the person who will save him (Kaori) under a shower of cherry blossoms. If that isn’t readily apparent, then you need only look at the anime’s tagline: “I met the girl under full-bloomed cherry blossoms and my fate has begun to change”. The symbolism is too bittersweet to swallow. Just like the cherry blossom, Kaori blooms and shares her vivaciousness with the world. Kousei sees the *life* in her life and is able to recapture his own passion. Tragically the bloom withers and falls too soon.
Cherry Blossom: Bleach
I’ll shift gears after all those sad emotions. You might be surprised to see the poetic imagery of cherry blossom petals in a fighting anime like Bleach, but it is there. When I look at the zanpakuto of Byakuya I see the motif shift. Senbonzakura (meaning Thousand Cherry Blossoms) embraces two sides. First it is a protector of life. Even though Byakuya has an innumerable count of tiny blades floating around him, his blades do not cut frivolously or without purpose. The other side of the coin is that they are clear bringers of death. This torrent of small blades simultaneously washes away Byakuya’s enemies and protects him with an impenetrable defense.
Cherry Blossom: Fairy Tail
There is the celebration aspect to the festival that I have yet to touch on. What better example could I use than the eternal celebration that is Fairy Tail? The town of Magnolia holds a Hanami party for its rainbow cherry tree. Fairy Tail revels in the opportunity to party after a long year of guild work (including the complete destruction of a few towns). Sadly, Lucy comes down with a cold from being buried in an avalanche the day before the festival and is forced to miss the party.
While her guildmates are playing Bingo and basking in the rainbow glow, she is stuck in bed. What recourse do Natsu and Happy have to cheer her up? Of course, the only thing they can do is uproot the enormous tree, put it on a boat, and float it right past Lucy’s bedroom window. The inconvenience of missing tree is forgiven in the festivity of friendship providing happiness again.
Cherry Blossom: Final Thoughts
Is it a wonder that in reflection of all these themes that the Cherry Blossom festival has made its way into cultures outside Japan? Washington D.C. has a festival all its own celebrating the gift from Japan made in 1912. Macon, Georgia boasts over 300,000 cherry trees in its International Cherry Blossom Festival. There are holidays honored in Rome, Finland, Taiwan, China, and many other locales.
Let me leave you with this quote:
“Suddenly, I was keenly aware that we wouldn’t be able to remain together forever. The overwhelming power of our lives, the boundless vastness of time were stretching hopelessly before us. “– Touno Takaki (5 Centimeters per Second).
In the grand scheme, life is cyclical. We’re born, we live, we die. But our individual existence here cannot repeat itself the way the cherries blossom every spring. It is up to us to hold onto the people we love with the same feeling of magic that the cherry blossom festival brings. We should be awed every day; we should celebrate more often.
Featured Image: Aniplex