If you can, plan your trip to Japan to coincide with cherry blossom season. Though there will be larger crowds at many sites, the exquisite blooms are likely to make up for any inconveniences.
I was fortunate to be in Japan during the height of cherry blossom season, a brief period when a gauzy shroud of pink is thrown over public parks and private gardens.
As many commentators through the centuries have noted, cherry blossoms are more than just flowers to the Japanese. They are excuse to celebrate, as families and friends meet under the flowering trees to drink, eat and socialize in gatherings called hanami.
They are also a symbol for the transitory nature of life, a poignant reminder of both how beautiful and how brief existence is. The delicate cherry blossom, here today and fluttering to the ground tomorrow, is a reminder that we are to live deeply in each moment, recognizing that it will never pass our way again.
The cherry blossoms have often been used as a metaphor for Buddhist teachers, who point to the way the flowers appear in spring on branches that appear dry and lifeless. Their gentle unfolding is similar to the process of enlightenment, which comes after the hard winter of practice and meditation. As the ego withers away, new life blossoms within us.
I remember walking in wonder under blooming cherry trees in Japan, the petals falling like snow. At times they were so lovely they seemed almost otherworldly, particularly along the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, a canal lined with hundreds of trees.
In the words of the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho: “The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.”
For information on timing your visit to coincide with cherry blossom season, see here.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.