A few days ago, while I was busy with other less important things the sakura season was officially declared open here in Tokyo after the tree in Yasukuni shrine started blooming. The week saw great weather and the first hints of summer humidity. On Sunday morning however it was like a typhoon had hit us. Rain, winds, thunder and lightning. Most of the events I had planned got canceled due to the bad weather so instead I headed over to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward to see how the poor old cherry blossoms were doing. I didn’t get far until a sudden wind burst turned my umbrella into a spiky knot of confetti! At the shrine where the food stalls were all geared up the rain had driven most visitors away. All the trees were in full bloom however and I think the peak should come today, Monday. From Tuesday the blooming will start to recede and we might get one more weekend of flower viewing here in Tokyo if the weather holds. Today seems to be promising a beautiful day.
As I passed the main gate of the Yasukuni shrine I saw a group of very elderly gentlemen having their portrait taken. I think they were a war veteran group, survivors of Guadalcanal here to pay their respects to their fallen comrades.
Last weekend while visiting Yasukuni shrine to see the sakura trees I also spent a while watching the semi-annual iaido performance at the Kagura stage in the shrine grounds. There were iaidoka, practitioners of iaido, of both sexes, from young to old and including at least one foreigner. Iaido is a highly philosophical sport focused on the quick drawing of the sword, a resolute attack and a smooth withdrawal. Because it involves actual weaponry there is not competition aspect to it. There are three kinds of swords, a wooden boken that is used for kata (or set movements) with more than one person, iaito which is a blunt metal sword and a shinken, which is a sharpened sword. There are also kata for more than one swords, extra long swords and sneakier “stealth” kata that involves hidden daggers.
Originally iaido was a real practice for real combat situations but these days it is more like a very fluid form of zen meditation, similar to zen archery, kyudo, and not even remotely similar to the combat sports like kendo or naginata. It takes a lot of time and dedication to become reasonably good at iaido. There is something comforting about a sport where the best practitioners are also usually the oldest!
Despite this performance being free for anyone to watch it is not very well advertised apart from a line or two on a sub-page of the ever elegant and modest Yasukuni shrine official website.
Headline says it all: I took this close up of the buds at the official sakura (cherry) tree at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine a few hours ago. When this tree blooms, the sakura season is officially opened. While I was there earlier today I met a few television crews hoping to catch the first blooms. It looks like they will have to wait a little longer. What say you, gardening experts? The weather forecast right now says it will be partially cloudy with temperatures between 6 (in the morning) and 21 (at noon) until Friday this week. In other words, more or less perfect sakura weather! Moderate to strong winds (not so good) but no rain and a humidity of 20 to 40%.
By this date last year the official Sakura season here in Tokyo had already started but this year the trees seems to be a little bit less hurried. Yesterday I visited the famous Yasukuni Shrine in Kudanshita to see the official sakura tree for myself. The buds where there but not ready to burst open just quite yet. Of the hundreds of cherry trees in the shrine I saw only one that had started flowering, but not the official tree. So not yet, but any day now, the tree here in Yasukuni will start flowering.