No tree is more significant to the Japanese than the ornamental cherry or sakura. The pursuit of viewing and picnicking under cherry blossoms is called hanami and goes back more than 1,000 years.
Every year we welcome Japanese students to our Worthing and Chichester Colleges, many of whom stay with us for two years to complete their A-Levels. In 2019, the Japanese government gave Chichester College a wonderful gift of six Sakura Cherry trees to celebrate the Japanese season of culture. The global pandemic delayed the delivery of these trees. And the good news is that we finally received them this week. We will plant four trees gifted to us at our Chichester Campus and the other two at our Brinsbury College Campus.
In all, we have taken receipt of three different Cherry tree species from the Japanese government. The Tai-haku or “great white” cherry tree is often depicted in ancient Japanese artworks and historical drawings. Sadly, this species of the cherry tree became extinct in Japan. Here the story of these trees takes a beautiful turn. When all thought that the Taihaku in Japan was lost forever, one was located by chance in a Sussex garden and reintroduced to Japan. Today you can see them everywhere in Japan again!
Today, the two Tai-hakus planted at our Campus give meaning and symbolism to the friendship and closeness between our two countries.
People are attracted to sakura for its beauty and fragility and the short lifespan of its blossom. Japanese people see these trees as an analogy for human life, reminding everyone of humanity’s fragile nature. Cherry blossom embodies mono no aware, which translates as “the poignancy of things”, a feeling understood and regarded as part of the Japanese psyche.
These trees encourage us to make the most of our short lives and be present at the moment because life goes by so quickly. This concept resonates with the Buddhist idea of thriving in the present moment.
Today, the 10th of March 2022, we held a special event. Our Chief Executive Officer, Andy Green and Deputy CEO, Julie Kapsalis, joined students and staff in a tree-planting ceremony.
Julie started the ceremony with a Haiku
Students contributed with written work, and Kotone, one of our Japanese students from TKU read hers out loud:
Message from Wakana Hino, a Japanese student from Kyoto Gakuen
“Cherry blossoms are very fleeting for me. When I was little, I picked my handfuls of cherry blossoms, but they always wilted the next day, and I felt very strange about it. That’s why the cherry blossoms look even more beautiful to me, and I’m so glad because of today’s tree planting. I never thought I’d be able to see Cherry blossoms at the College!”
Message from Shiho, a Japanese student from KTU.
“I haven’t done much actual cherry blossom viewing in my city. The reason is that there are many cherry blossoms everywhere where I live, so I don’t have to make an effort to do it. However, people who live in urban cities do cherry blossom viewing to enjoy talking, eating and drinking with their friends or family under the tree. I often see these scenes on TV every year, showing people enjoying themselves.
Every year in spring, I go out to take photos of sakura. These are fascinating and beautiful. These make me happy and relaxed.
I was surprised to hear about Taihaku because I didn’t know it had such an interesting history. It has been good to learn about it. I am pleased to have taken part in this opportunity. I hope everyone will be interested in Japanese cultural traditions like Hanami and Sakura.”
Message from Ami, a Japanese student from KTU.
“I remember when I was a child, I used to go to see cherry blossoms with my family. I have very peaceful and wonderful memories of eating lunch and dumplings with my family while looking at the beautiful cherry blossoms. Also, on the day of the college entrance ceremony, it was customary to take photos under the cherry blossom trees near my house, wearing new school uniforms. I associate cherry blossoms with the arrival of spring. Cherry blossom viewing is an event that makes me value the season of spring. And when I see cherry blossoms, I feel the excitement of starting a new life. I am delighted that Japanese cherry trees will be planted at the College. I hope the students will feel the arrival of spring with cherry blossoms and have an image of spring as cherry blossoms.
Message from Nana, a Japanese student from KTU.
"When I see cherry blossoms, I feel happy and sad. I have mixed feelings because they bloom during the college entrance ceremony season, so everybody celebrates. That makes me happy. However, spring is also a time of goodbyes, making me sad. I have both happy and sad emotions."
Message from Kanon, a Japanese student from KTU.
"When it comes to memories related to cherry blossoms, I went to Kyoto with my family two years ago to see cherry blossoms. I remember that the soba noodles we had there were so delicious. As for the meaning of cherry blossoms and hanami, cherry blossoms are an important symbol that reminds me that spring has come and that I can feel the four seasons. Until now, I thought cherry blossoms could only be viewed in Japan, so I will be glad to see them here at Chichester College."
Message from Ikuyo, a Japanese student from KTU.
"I remember the first time I saw cherry blossoms alone in Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto is not my hometown, so I missed my family and wished they could have seen the blossoms together next to me. When I sent my mother the photos of many petals floating on a river, she told me the view is called “Hana-ikada” (Flower rafts). That impressed me because it sounds like they set off on a journey. It’s my favourite Japanese word.
Probably I can’t enjoy the view this year, but I hope more people can make a lovely memory about cherry blossoms with someone here at Chichester College."
At Tokyos' Imperial Palace, towards the end of March in hanami-time, city parks are full of families, schoolchildren and workers who participate in mass social bonding. We hope that by receiving these beautiful gifts from the Japanese, we might share a little more in their exquisite culture and, in doing so, learn from them and bring our nations closer together.