My eyes well up with tears, when I remember Tokyo from years past, during cherry blossom season. The city streets at the end of March would be packed with tourists, from other parts of Japan and abroad, who had come to enjoy the sakura or "cherry blossoms." Because these delicate flowers have short lives, they represent "impermanence" within the Buddhist culture of Japan.
This season, called Hanami or "flower-viewing," is celebrated by gathering together friends and family for picnics beneath the blooming sakura trees, which are everywhere. However, this year, the crowds of foreign tourists will be thin, as officials struggle to gain control of a nuclear meltdown at reactors less than 150 miles from Tokyo, and the Japanese bury loved ones in mass graves caused by the earthquake-tsunami disaster. What hasn't changed is the message, which cherry-blossom viewers have been asked to ponder for the past two thousand years. It is the transient nature of life.
Sakura, Sakura is one of Japan's most popular traditional songs.