Cherry Blossom Viewing in Japan By Anna C. Hartshorne-1904



Cherry Blossom Viewing in Japan By Anna C. Hartshorne-1904

Quite away on the other side of the city is Arashiyama, where the yamazakura grows—the lovely wild cherry blossom, emblem of Japanese knighthood. From the mountain to Kyoto is a five-mile stretch of level road across the fields, that in April are like an impressionist poster done in washes of pale green and yellow—the vivid, unnameable yellow of the rape. Three months later, where the green barley was, young rice is pushing through the mud; and by the time the maples turn in the gorge all the plain is covered with the harvest, a sweep of gold and amber from the city to the hills. Here, in spring, the slopes beyond the Katsuragawa flush into delicate bloom, and then it is that the poet bids one come at dawn, and, looking on the sakura flower, " learn what is Yamato damashii," the spirit of Japan. At least one may learn why the poets sang of the wild cherry, for it is indescribably lovely, far lovelier than the sumptuous double blossoms of Mukojima; the slender, willowy branches seem lost in a pearly pink mist, ethereal as the faint fragrance, seeming to melt into the pale light of a Japanese sky. The wild sakura is the emblem of the Bushi, the Samurai, because the flower falls in its perfection, before the first breath has marred its purity; even so, the code taught, a knight should fall in his prime, without the shadow of a stain upon his honor.

Japanese literature is full of allusions to the sakura. "Three things should be endured with patience—the clouds that hide thy moon, the wind that scatters thy cherry flowers, and the man who seeks to pick a quarrel with thee."

Or this, in which the whole law of Japanese knighthood is summed up—the law that bade every man seek for honor at whatever cost:

"If she puts not forth her blossom, who will tear the branches of the sakura? The tree is her own foe."

The custom of cherry-viewing is attributed to an eighth century Emperor, who, on an expedition in the mountains, sent back to the Empress a branch of blossoms, with a verse to the effect that if the single twig delighted the eye, the beauty of the whole tree would drive away sleep.

These trees on Arashiyama were planted by a fifteenth century Emperor, though no one could guess that they had not grown there of their own accord, so perfectly wild and natural is the effect of the forest.

Arashiyama is scarcely less charming in autumn, when bars of mist lie across the hillside in the morning and afternoon, and all Kyoto comes out to see the maples. This is the time of times to shoot the rapids of the Katsuragawa. They begin far up the river at a little village called Yamamoto, a three hours' ride from Kyoto; the road is hilly, and not too good traveling in places. There you take a boat, putting in kuruma and men, in order to be sure of getting back from Arashiyama to the city; they are queer long, narrow boats, and very flexible, as they have need to be for such sharp turns and swift water; but the boatmen are most skillful, and except after heavy rains it is only exciting, not really dangerous. The distance is thirteen miles, and the whole way down the gorge is wild and picturesque. The river swirls down it in a series of rapids, now broken with islands, now rushing straight between precipitous banks, now winding and dodging among a throng of rocks. At Arashiyama there is an excellent teahouse, and for those who have not come down, boats can be hired for a little row up the river, to the end of the last rapid. It is an admirable place to see the good people of Kyoto enjoying themselves in their best apparel, for a Japanese damsel would as soon go cherry-viewing in her ordinary clothes as one of the "Four Hundred" would appear at the opera in a traveling dress. The flash of sunlight on light crapes and gorgeous sashes adds not a little to the picturesqueness of Arashiyama.