Cherry Blossom Festivals from Afar- Symbol of HopeFeatured News, Travel Sunday, April 3rd, 2011
Amidst concerns and pain caused by the earthquake-tsunami disaster and the radioactive leaks, Japan has officially entered the season of the blooming cherry trees, a period of the year when the country organizes related festivals that have annually attracted thousands of visitors. However, being given the circumstances, the state’s tourist industry is facing a severe challenge, with travellers being reluctant to visit a country coping with death, destruction and now the dangers of radiation.
Despite this unfortunate context, tourists elsewhere in the world have engaged in an attempt of transforming the sakura (cherry blossom) into a symbol of hope. Thus, they partake in festivals similar to the Japanese ones, such as the US National Cherry Blossom Festival, which started last week in Washington DC. Held annually in order to celebrate Japan’s friendship with the US, the event dates back 99 years ago when Japan sent the country thousands of cherry blossom trees as a gift. Its organizers have considered it a good occasion to “return the favor” and inaugurated it with a fundraising walk and vigil for the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Thus, they can send back a gift to a friend in need.
Serving as a metaphor for “the ephemerality of life” in Japanese art and poetry, as James Ulak, the senior curator of Japanese art at Washington’s Freer and Sackler art galleries, revealed in an interview, the cherry blossom was transformed by the festival’s president, Diana Mayhew, into a symbol of rebirth and renewal.
The meaning reinvestment comes as an even more necessary act for Japan, where the cherry blossom season usually brought profits, but it now only creates a higher and more painful contrast with reality. According to the estimations of the International Air Transport Association, about 7% of Japan’s GDP was meant to result from tourism and travel this year. With cancellations of tours from Hong Kong, China, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and other countries that normally send many tourists to Japan, the country has experienced a 25% drop in international passenger traffic.
As Japan strives to recover and dust off, the blossoming cherry trees stand as a source of flickering hope. Speaking about the meaning conveyed by them, Ryuichi Oda, a local who went to photograph the blossoms in Tokyo this week, couldn’t have said it better: “I think the Japanese see the cherry blossoms as symbolizing the need to get back to basics in life.”
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