The cherry blossom is the sure sign that spring has arrived, and if you find yourself in Vancouver or Washington, D.C. in North America you are treated to the wonderful site of these flowers in full bloom on a large scale. Or better yet, if you are in Japan, where these beautiful spring trees are thought to have originated, then around just about every corner your senses are overwhelmed.
And here in lies the peculiarity of the Korean cherry blossom experience. Because these trees are everywhere, just as they are in Japan. They line gardens outside of the massive apartment buildings, sit along side streets congested with traffic, and there are numerous cherry blossom festivals throughout the country celebrating the arrival of spring.
If you didn't know any better you would think there was a certain level of pride within the population regarding the yearly bloom that captures the attention of anyone who wanders about. And I certainly was a part of the ignorant group that figured everyone loved these trees, because who wouldn't, but the truth is, many don't.
In a telling response to the much-hated Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula for some 40 years in the first half of the 20th century, residual anger is now placed on these dastardly trees (although they do save some for the Japanese baseball team and it's players). Sure they're beautiful to look at, but they're Japanese - I was interested to learn plants have nationalities!? And while they are nice to look at for a while, they eventually lose those blooms, creating a mess that Koreans have to deal with. Then their fruits fall to the ground creating an even worse mess of crushed fruit all over sidewalks and streets!! And to top it off, festivals to celebrate these alien plants?? Well it's just about enough to start a war of words between the nations. A little tree, so much hate!?!
So while many happily snap away photos of these beautiful flowers, and revel in the fact that spring has sprung, others see them as the last remenants of time not easily forgotten. Of course much of what I have said here comes with a grain of salt (as I am pretty sure these trees pre-date any Japanese occupation), but the saddening part for me in all this, is the fact that much of the information I receive about Korean thoughts and attitudes come from the students I deal with each day. Where did they get these ideas?
I could go on here about the lessons this little tree teaches me about the lasting legacy of hatred (which it does), but instead I choose to see the room for forgiveness and renewal in this world that is apparent every spring.
Ahh, spring...what a great time!! You feeling it Toronto?