Sunday, April 10, 2011

Item From the Past: The Sakura of Suminoe

Twenty springs ago, I visited the Osaka Gogoku Shrine in Suminoe Ward. I'd been told that the shrine's cherry blossoms (sakura) were well worth seeing. For one thing, they're cherry blossoms. A grove of cherry trees in bloom is arrestingly beautiful, something I already knew, having first visited Kyoto during cherry blossom season in 1990.

Just as importantly, no crowds. Everywhere else I saw sakura I had to deal with crowds, especially at the grounds of the Japan Mint, which happens to be in Osaka and happens to be planted with cherry trees.

No one else was at Osaka Gogoku Shrine that morning.

Note the headstones, featuring a shell, a warplane propeller and a cavalry horse, among other martial emblems. The web site of the city of Osaka says of the shrine: "Established in May 1940 and dedicated to Emperor Nintoku and all soldiers from Osaka who died in battle from the Meiji era onward. The surviving families of the fallen soldiers had wished for such a monument since 1900... Some volunteers formed a cherry tree donation committee, finally donating approximately one thousand cherry and paulownia trees, covering... the holy site and giving it a peaceful, serene atmosphere."

Because of their brevity, sakura have long been associated with mortality, and before 1945, the Japanese government promoted an association with the war dead in particular. But it's a fitting association, considering that most of the war dead would have had very short lives indeed.

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