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Sakura: Transience (blossom time)

To encourage pupils to consider the transient nature of life and live in the present.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5

Aims

To encourage pupils to consider the transient nature of life and live in the present.

Preparation and materials

  • Download images of Japanese cherry trees in blossom.

Assembly

  1. Every spring, trees across Japan erupt in a sea of white and pink as the new year's cherry blossoms, or sakura, emerge. The blossoms stay for a month and then slowly disappear, the trees then growing their leaves, until they shed them in the autumn, showing their bare branches once again.
  2. The annual blossoming of the cherry trees is an important part of Japanese culture, so much so that flower-viewing parties are held. There are records of this tradition, known as hanami, going back as far as the third century BC. Picnics in Japan's many gardens and flower groves are still common today and the blossoming season is tracked on TV news. Sakura flowers decorate many Japanese consumer goods, as well as being an international symbol for Japan. Their simple, fragile beauty stands for a Japanese style of design.
  3. As well as being very beautiful, the sakura represent an important Japanese cultural concept, that of mono no aware. This means beauty as an awareness of the transience of things and a gentle sadness at their passing, the acceptance of change. Nothing lasts forever and all people age and wither. Awareness of the temporary nature of things makes their beauty in the moment of experiencing them even greater and more poignant.
  4. That is why the cherry is such a deep and powerful symbol in Japan. The short but intensely beautiful sakura season stands for the brief splendour of life – its beautiful but short span makes it valuable. The passing of time can be a sad thing: anyone who has lost a family member or remembers their youth in old age knows this to be true. In order to lose something, you have to have had it in the first place, though, and we can take joy from that. We can also enjoy such moment all the more – they will be all the more real and special – if we realise that they won't last forever.

Time for reflection

There are many exciting things about the future – more freedoms, more opportunities – but childhood and youth are things that can never be regained. The spirit of mono no aware calls on us to value what we have now because it will not last forever. Appreciate the joy of the moment and note it passing as you do so. It will never come again, but it was a real joy while you were experiencing it. Many people spend their lives working towards something more – spending their lives wanting, ignoring what is happening now. If there is one lesson we can take from the symbolism the Japanese attach to cherry blossoms, it is that there is no time like the present.

Spend a few moments now, being mindful of and valuing everything that you have now. Not what you will have  or what will happen in a few moments, nor at the end of the school day, but now. You are like that blossom – beautiful and in the present.

Music

‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds

Publication date: January 2013   (Vol.15 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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