The pandemic has made us all long for spring. In Japan and elsewhere, full bloom is coming earlier than ever
Early in Junichiro Tanizaki’s great novel The Makioka Sisters, we learn of the family’s annual trips to admire the cherry blossom; occasions anticipated long in advance, as they plan their outfits, scan the latest forecasts of the full bloom’s arrival, and agonise over any hint of poor weather. Without witnessing the full glory of Kyoto’s trees, spring does not feel like spring.
Yet besides the joy of the family gathering, and the resplendence of the scene before them, Sachiko, one of the heroines, experiences “pleasant sorrow for the cherry blossoms, sorrow for her sisters and the passing of their youth”, foreshadowing Tanizaki’s themes of impermanence and decline. As a child she had been unmoved by classical poems lamenting the end of the season, “but now she knew, as well as one could know, that grieving over fallen cherry blossoms was more than a fad or a convention”. The fate of the flowers echoes that of the family; even the Japanese title of the novel – Light Snowfall – evokes the petals drifting slowly to earth.