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How The Japanese Culture Of Celebrating Cherry Blossoms Finds Beauty In Fleeting Change

Starting as early as January, cherry blossoms begin to bloom in Japan but the beautiful pink flower only lasts a few days.
Kristina Blokhin
Starting as early as January, cherry blossoms begin to bloom in Japan but the beautiful pink flower only lasts a few days.

In Japan, celebrations of spring center around one iconic natural phenomenon — the cherry blossom.

Starting as early as January and going into May, across Japan pink blossoms begin to sprout from trees and decorate spaces around the country.

Aragorn Quinn is an assistant professor of Japanese literature and media in UW-Milwaukee’s department of foreign languages and literature. Quinn explains that despite not producing edible fruit or even smelling all that nice, the blossoms have taken on a large cultural significance.

“It’s not really the beauty of the flower itself, it’s the fact that these blossoms last for such a short amount of time,” he says.

A single tree’s blossom usually only lasts for a few days. The fleeting nature of the flowers has become a symbol for appreciating change and being in a place that will look completely different the next day.

“It’s this kind of really ephemeral experience and it’s this sense of, almost this sense of sadness, that this is this beautiful thing that is not going to last. That’s the very specific connotation that these cherry blossoms have,” Quinn says.

But cherry blossoms aren’t the only symbol for the change brought by spring.

In Japanese poetry, the reference to a “misty moon” often is meant to tie a poem to spring.

“The misty moon, it actually sort of ties into that same aesthetic of the cherry blossoms, that sort of beauty that you have through sadness. You can’t quite see the full moon because it’s behind a cloud or it’s behind some kind of mist. So it is obscured from us and that gives us this appealing sense of sadness,” he says.

Celebrations of spring in Japanese pop culture include plastering images of cherry blossoms everywhere, including on bottles of Coke, dishware and countless other products.

People are also often given the day off or released from work early to throw parties underneath the cherry blossoms to enjoy them for the short time they are in full bloom.

While cherry blossoms may be harder to find in southeast Wisconsin, Quinn says incorporating the beauty of change in any way possible is a great way to celebrate spring.

“We’re happier people if we know more ways to appreciate the same physical world around us,” he says.

Quinn will be giving a virtual presentation about the Japanese Spring Blossom festival this Wednesday as a part of the Manfred Olson Planetarium’s Asian Celebrations series.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.