Sakura, (Cherry Trees) are revered as a symbol of rebirth in Japanese culture.
Hanami (welcoming spring) was an established ritual as early as 710 BCE, long before the rise of feudal Japan. Believed to represent the mountain deities that transformed into the gods of rice paddies in Japanese folk religions, cherry blossom trees signified agricultural reproduction. It was during this time the Japanese travelled to the mountains to worship the trees every spring, then transplanted them to inhabited areas.
Japanese cherry blossoms are a timeless metaphor for human existence. The elusive flowers are so cherished in Japan, that it is home to thousands of cherry blossom trees. Cherry blossoms permeates Japanese paintings, film and poetry. Blooming season is powerful, glorious and intoxicating, but tragically short-lived, a visual reminder that our lives, too, are fleeting. Every April, families and friends gather in large groups for hanami and elaborate feasts with music under giant, feathery canopies of soft pink.
In Japanese culture, sakura as the embodiment of beauty and mortality can be traced back centuries. No one in history personified this metaphor more than the samurai, the warriors of feudal Japan who lived by bushido (“the way of the warrior”) — a strict moral code of respect, honour and discipline. It was their duty to not only exemplify and preserve these virtues in life, but to appreciate the inevitability of death without fearing it — in battle, it came all too soon for the samurai. A fallen cherry blossom or petal, it’s believed, symbolized the end of their short lives.
Shinto “the way of the gods” its the indigenous faith of the Japanese people. The basic belief of Shinto is that kami “the way of nature” is found in all living things. Kami is found to reside in beautiful, sacred places like waterfalls, and ancient forests.
Trees are an ancient symbol for the heart that reaches presence. When one is identified it is called a Tree of Life. These trees are marked with a shimenawa (special plaited rope.) The ropes are placed around trees to indicate awareness of the present moment. The pieces of white paper that are cut into strips and hung from these ropes are called gohei; they symbolize purity in the Shinto faith, the purity of prolonged presence.
The Sakaki Tree is considered the most sacred tree in Shinto mythology and is used in ceremonies to honor Kami. The Sakaki is an “evergreen” or “always thriving tree” (sakaeru-ki), representing a sense of prosperity or thriving. It is also used as a “border-tree” (sakai-ki) used to demarcate sacred space.
Shintoism emphasizes a constant searching for harmony with nature, and the recognition of and appreciation for kami’s presence in one’s surroundings. It is in these sacred spaces one can truly connect with the spiritual realm.
All of humanity is regarded as “Kami’s child.”
Thus all that is nature is sacred.