I felt happy and comforted when our cherry tree blossomed after incessant rainy days here in the Pacific Northwest. True, this region is known for rainy days. But, this winter has been almost unbearably wet and sunless even for this area. (In addition, the almost unhinged U.S. political situations resulting from the last election exacerbated the sunless condition brought about by nature.) So I was delighted when I unexpectedly spotted pinks on the treetops as I drove along the streets in late March. Then, suddenly in early April our cherry tree began to blossom gradually when sun showed its face for an extended time (of two days). It made me happy. Yet, I felt a vague sense of sadness because the extended weather forecast told us rain would come back. This sadness is, of course, the sense of transience (what Japanese calls “mujo” or “hakanasa”). I was resigned to the foreseeable future of a cherry tree surrounded by myriad of pale pink cherry blossom petals on the wet ground. Then, gusty winds came. The wind danced like a crazed spirit outside. Some tree branches were knocked down. So I was surprised and very touched when I opened our front door to find the cherry blossoms still hanging onto their lives. This made me realize that there is no such a thing as “fate” or “destiny.” Cherry blossoms, which are symbolic for transience, can be resilient even when sturdier-looking trees lose their grounds.
I started playing golf a little more than a year ago, and to my surprise my balmy fondness for playing golf continues. I am not a “serious” golfer who counts every stroke trying to go through the entire course as fast as possible. Instead, both my husband and I enjoy walking along the undulating hills of our club golf course surrounded by tall evergreens occasionally coming out into the open space at the green that shows a breath-taking vista of Mt. Rainier. We both love walking rather than using an electric golf cart, because walking adds health benefits to playing golf. True, my golf definitely improved and it’s joyful to put the ball into the hole in one stroke or hit the driver far enough for a ball to reach the center of the fairway. (Predictably, my husband is more into “improving his golf skills.”) But, the true happiness, particularly for me, is to be surrounded by nature and occasionally witness wildlife, such as raccoon family crossing the fairway, deer grazing on the hillsides, ducks swimming in the pond, and robins watching golf balls apparently mistaking them for eggs. Playing golf can be a spiritual experience.
Each time I open the Japanese monthly calendar for 2014, which came with a Japanese Women’s magazine as a supplement, I am impressed by the ancient Japanese people’s exquisite sensitivity to their changing natural environment. The Japanese almanac used before the Meiji modernization, which changed the old calendar system into the Gregorian calendar in order to keep up with the western powers, had at least three methods to mark the seasonal changes: the lunar calendar, Chinese 24 seasons, and an agricultural almanac. The Japanese calendar of olden times memorialized the physical manifestations of changing seasons and people’s customs and festivities by using poetic expressions. For instance, Sept. 8th is marked as hakuro, which means ‘white dew,’ because frost could be observed on the green blades of plants on the hillside for the first time after the long summer. Opening this calendar induces me to contemplate on the natural environment and Japanese people’s way of life of the past.
Since I live in the US, these seasonal markers and festivities listed seem a little like the events in the fantasy land where many objects and phenomena inspire aesthetic contemplation. I wonder if it is possible to recapture such an aesthetically enchanting experience if one lives in Japanese countryside even now. But, I suspect most contemporary Japanese probably consider these elaborate traditional ways to mark time as somewhat fantastic.