Sakura

Sakura is the Japanese word for “cherry” as in cherry blossoms, those

Cherry blossoms, 2009

Cherry blossoms, 2009

otherworldly white-pink flowering boughs that are one symbol of Japan — and a national craze at this time of year. I remember being bewildered by the profound mystery of cherry blossoms when I first saw them: how they can be both pink and white at the same time. You see a cherry tree from a distance, and it is a gentle pink haze. You approach it and examine the flowers at close range, and they’re as white as white can be. Then you back off, and sure enough, the tree is pink again.

I also wanted to point out the living presence of ancient folklore in

Kappa asking visitors to keep Toyano Lagoon free of trash

Kappa asking visitors to keep Toyano Lagoon free of trash

 modern times: one of these photos shows a sign asking people to help keep the area around Toyano Lagoon free of trash. The creatures making the plea are kappa, the water-goblins of many an old tale. Since the lagoon is their home, they have a vested interest in the neatness of tourists who come to see the cherry blossoms along the waterside.

Cherries at Toyano Lagoon

Cherries at Toyano Lagoon

This, by the way, is my favorite place in Niigata City for cherry viewing. The trees along the lagoon’s near side are quite old, their trunks gnarled and wizened with the elements and time’s passage. In another decade or two, these trees will no longer bloom so well, and the annual traffic of sakurophiles will shift to the lagoon’s far side and to other areas in the city with younger trees. And so the cycle goes on. . . .

Cherry blossoms at Toyano Lagoon

Cherry blossoms at Toyano Lagoon

The fascination with sakura in Japan includes the awareness of brevity. Full bloom lasts for a couple days — perhaps three, four at best, certainly less than a week. Then the long-anticipated petals fall in a pink rain, the new green leaves burst forth, and the blossoms are over for another year. I recall at least one old Japanese ghost story in which human youth is linked to the sakura tree. We humans, too, blossom and flourish for one white-pink moment in the sun, and then the wheel of time rolls on. (As some famous writer said: “You’re young for a moment, and then you’re old for a very long time.”) But the blossoming

Booth selling poppoyaki, a soft bread stick made with molasses/brown sugar

Booth selling poppoyaki, a soft bread stick made with molasses/brown sugar

– it’s all the more spectacular because it’s so brief. It is a Japanese ideal to savor every single instant, to perceive and experience the life in every breath.

Anyway (grroinnk!), “The Star Shard” is now complete in its Cricket run. Any day now, my corner of the Web site will be deactivated, and I’ll be passing the baton to the next featured writer. What a blessing it’s been to be a part of it all this past year! I hope I’ve savored every instant and experienced the life in every breath.

Toyano Lagoon

Toyano Lagoon

Another batch of hard-copy reader letters arrived from Cricket today; and the winners and honorable mentions are all up on the site now for the contest in February about writing a song that the Urrmsh might sing. I’m not ashamed to admit that reading through these entries brought tears to my eyes.

One young reader, Aashima, included sheet music with her song text! She composed a melody to go with the words! To read all the song lyrics, please visit Cricket‘s site at http://www.cricketmagkids.com. I can’t reprint the songs here, but I can say a heartfelt thank you to all these young readers/writers, who wrote beautiful song texts, most centered on the sadness but necessity of Cymbril’s leaving the Rake and saying goodbye to the Urrmsh:

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms

Emily/Sparks, NV; Hope/Lake Oswego, OR; Sarah/Andover, MA; Jack/Great Meadows, NJ; Sasha/Berkeley, CA; Isabel/Brooklyn, NY; Kayla/Cape May Court House, NJ; Isabel/Houston, TX; Sumayyah/West Babylon, NY; Jessie/Brentwood Bay, B.C., Canada; Kendra/Seattle, WA; Frances/Salt Lake City, UT; Aashima/Dallas, TX; Sam/Dallas, TX; Emma/Omaha, NE; Madeline/Valencia, CA; Max/New Hampton, NH; Mia/New Hampton, NH; Peyton/Dallas, TX; Phoebe/Dallas, TX; and

Strings of lanterns through the trees for nightly illumination

Strings of lanterns through the trees for nightly illumination

Miranda/Skokie, IL. And thanks also to the magnificent fan artists: Anhtho/Seattle, WA; Dylann/Vista, CA; Aria/PA; Irisa/NY; Maya/NY; Andrew/NY; Aloise/Baltimore, MA; Eddie/Bandon, OR; Samantha/Northport, NY; Olivia/Belmont, MS; Laura/Anchorage, AK; Ethan/PA; Natalie/Wilton, CT; and Ivy/Costa Mesa, CA.

Soli Deo gloria! That the story has had this much life of its own beyond

the tabletop where I wrote it is a blessing beyond words, beyond imagining. If I were to die tomorrow, I would have no regrets as a writer — as a writer, I could have more success in volume and magnitude — but in kind, in experience, what more could one hope for? This is the best of all worlds, and I’m thankful to have seen it up this close.

Finally (groink! – that’s the sound of changing the subject with a

The Anastasia ("Resurrection"): tour boat on the Shinano River

The Anastasia ("Resurrection"): tour boat on the Shinano River

monkey wrench, for anyone who came in late), remember how a while back we were talking about misconceptions of words we had as kids? I remembered another one: for a time, I thought a “Valkyrie” was something we sang in church, related to the “Kyrie” in the liturgy. I thought a Valkyrie was higher or stronger than a simple Kyrie, just as an archangel is of higher rank than an angel. (Tom Cruise’s film Valkyrie is playing here now; that’s what reminded me.)

 

The "Big Swan" stadium, built for the World Cup soccer games

The "Big Swan" stadium, built for the World Cup soccer games

Finally, I had some breakthroughs in thinking today about a story that’s teetering on the edge between being targeted for middle-grade and for teenagers. I guess I’ll know better when I get into the writing. (I’m hoping to get a shorter piece written before some publisher bites on The Star Shard [Lord willing] and I have to do another overhaul of that manuscript.) But also the dreaded last big chunk of the Japanese grammar dictionary I’m helping to edit arrived today, so I can blame my ineptitude and procrastination on having this dictionary job. . . . It’s good to have your writerly excuses in order. Keep them polished.

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4 Responses to “Sakura”

  1. Lizzie Says:

    This isn’t finished yet. I was hoping to round it out this weekend, but I’m finding that my life has suddenly turned topsy turvy and “Cherry Blossom & Crow” will probably be done long after the actual cherry blossoms are gone.

    I hope all is well with you. I’ve been thinking about you, and I do plan on getting back to you when I get a little bit of time to sit down and actually not have a roller coaster day.

    Thanks for posting those pictures, Fred. They’re just beautiful.

  2. Lizzie Says:

    http://www.afterburns.com/journalimages/crow&%20cherry.jpg -that’s a direct link to the cropped version of the pic in case the image tag doesn’t work in Word Press comments- which I’m not entirely sure of and don’t know why I didn’t think of it just now other than, I’ve had a really really really long day.

  3. mileposter Says:

    Kappas are featured in one story found in our reading comprehension workbook. IIRC, there is a bowl of water in the top of the kappa’s head, which must not be allowed to empty.

    I was going to ask how the cherry blossoms could be both pink and white, but after looking at one of the pictures, I think I can tell–white blossoms with red centers–mixed together, they make pink. Reminds me of something very different which operates on the same principle–purple taillights. We had those on one of our cars–until a kind policeman pulled us over. A red taillight with a blue dot in the center appears purple from a distance.

    Yes, it is a wistful time of farewell after the marvelous run of ‘The Star Shard,’ but OTOH, we know that there is more of the story! I doubt that astute editors would fail to pick up on a sequel at some time in the future!

    And another story is on the way! Not even the dreaded dictionary project can stop that!

  4. mileposter Says:

    p.s. I like the cherry blossoms much better than the skeletons! :-)

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