Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last Sakura at Yoshino

Well Sakura, cherry blossoms, are giving way to fresh leaves around here now but to conclude this year's Sakura groupie I went to Mt.Yoshino, Nara. 
In season, they started blooming from lower areas called Shimo-senbon, then moving up to Naka-senbon ( middle areas) and to Kami-senbon (upper ones) , finally up to the inner areas called Oku-senbon. Senbon means 1000 trees, so totally there should be 4000 but actually there is said to be around 30,000 now.


                          seen from Hanayagura (花矢倉)at Kami-senbon

The cherry tree legend at Mt.Yoshino started when En-no-Ozunu, a founder of Shugendō religion, engraved the image of Zaōgongen, a kind of deity, on a cherry tree when he attained enlightenment after a 1000 day- ascetic- training in the mountain in the latter half of 7th century.

 Since then worshippers have offered and planted cherry trees.

Many of Sakura here are Shiroyama-zakura or Oriental Cherry. The flowers bloom at the same time as a bit reddish new leaves appear so you can tell from Somei-yoshino, whose flowers bloom first.


I have been here several times in spring, in summer and in autumn. There are so many historical figures related to this place but I’d like to say a bit about two of them today.

First, Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune. Last year when I visited Yoshimizu Shrine, I saw these kimonos related to Shizuka-Gozen, Yoshitsune’s lover, on display. This was the place where they hid themselves from a party of pursuers. She danced the last dance for Yoshitsune on their painful parting here (1185), then he left her and continued running away.

Yoshitsune (1159-1189) was expelled by his brother, Yoritomo and ended up killing himself at the age of 31. With this tragic life and death despite his great accomplishment in the battle against  the Taira clan, he has been favored by many Japanese who sympathized his misfortune and unfulfilled potentiality. "Hangan-biiki" came from him that means to sympathize and support the weaker side who has enough ability. As is often the case with the popular personalities in the history, there are many other stories about him, however, this mentality has been familiar to many Japanese people.

Secondly, speaking of Sakura of Yoshino, we can’t forget the well- known poet, Saigyo(1118-1190) . He was once an Imperial Palace Guard (北面の武士)for the retired Emperor, which was assigned to young warriors who were excellent both in literary and military arts and good looking as well. However, he became a Buddhist monk, for reasons unknown, at age 23. He travelled a lot, making soul-searching journeys and one of his favorite places was Yoshino. He loved Sakura very much and wrote many poems about them.



吉野山 こぞのしをりの道かへて まだ見ぬかたの 花をたづねむ

“I’ll forget the trail I marked out on Mount Yoshino last year, so go searching for blossoms in directions I’ve never been before”   ( translated by Watson Burton)


Before Saigyo’s time, Sakura blossoms in the mountain were objects to be admired in their imagination and written in the poem but Saigyo is said to be the first to go and see in the mountain and appreciate Sakura at first hand.

願わくは花の下にて春死なむ そのきさらぎの望月のころ
“Let me die in spring under the blossoming trees, let it be around that full moon of Kisaragi month” (translated by Watson Burton)
This “Kisaragi”means February but in the new calendar it is around the end of March; Gautama Buddha was supposed to have died on Kisaragi 15. Though this poem wrote many years before Saigyo’s death, the fact he actually passed away just as he wished and yet just one day later than Buddha’s  surprised and amazed people in those days.

“Please offer Sakura flowers if there would be someone mourn for me”

taken last May
Here is a humble cottage where he is believed to have stayed for a while
at Okusenbon, where it is enclosed with forest. There are high summits and ridges and eroded V-shaped valleys leading to Kumano, Wakayama, so called Ōmine-okugake Route (大峯奥駆道)
; one of pilgrimage routes as well as Shugendo practitioners training route.
Yoshitsune's another hideout was 20 minutes' walk down from here. 

Sakura trees at Okusenbon are not many, besides, I heard they were not blooming yet, so I didn’t visit it this time.  I imagine how he would see and admire Sakura.


Sakura here are truly gentle and lovely.

On the way back, I saw this cloud. Looks like a dragon?

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