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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 3, September 2014

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Anita Virgil
Forest, Virginia, USA


Sadly Sakura

The Heian Period, [794-1185] was the beginning of the custom of Hanami: picnicking under the blooming sakura, the cherry-blossom trees. First celebrated among the court of Japan, it filtered down through the centuries to samurai society and later to the common people. This haiku, written late in the life of Basho, at last achieved for him what he sought: karumi or lightness. It depicts that ancient tradition of early spring.

Under the cherry trees,
On soup, and fish- salad and all,
Flower petals.
                              Basho1

The significance and symbolism of cherry blossoms and their blooming with such abandon, permeated all the arts of Japan. The following haiku by Basho’s contemporary, Onitsura [1660-1738], strikes an entirely different tone, one that may be considered the ‘down-side’ of this revered flower:

The cherry-flowers bloom;
We gaze at them;
They fall, and . . .
                              Onitsura2

It is not possible to ignore the whole picture of the brief period of youth and quick death attributable to cherry blossoms. The grim realization cannot be diminished by their overwhelming period of beauty. Issa speaks of this:

The cherry-blossoms,
That pleased me so much,
Have vanished from the earth.
                              Issa3

How then did this obscure fact come as such a shock: that towards the end of World War II, the Japanese created a “cherry-blossom bomb,” the Ohka. Human-guided, rocket-powered, it was a ramming anti-shipping missile. Each was transported beneath a Mitsubishi attack bomber.

Its pilots wore the white hachimachi headband of the samurai warriors—just as did the kamikaze pilots.

knowing too much
the ways of man
what then?
I turn my spade
to spring planting


Author's Notes:

1. Blyth, Haiku: Spring, Volume 2, 1950, p. 360.
2. Blyth, Haiku: Spring, Volume 2, 1950, p. 361.
3. Blyth, Haiku: Spring, Volume 2, 1950, p. 367.

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