The Tokyo Olympic Games and the hints of spring flowers peeping through the cold earth make this an ideal time to feature Narisa Togo’s When the Sakura Bloom.
I also adore blossoms and have been longing to find some time to savour and share this beautiful picture book.
Japan is, of course, well known for cherry blossom season in spring. While highlighting and celebrating blossom time, this book follows the cherry trees throughout the four seasons. Each has its own beauty.
The story begins in winter with the branches bare, then rejoices in spring when the blossoms bud, reach full bloom to make a “pink ceiling” and then fall after a fleeting show to make a “pink carpet”. This is the time of the Sakura Festival and is the highlight of the book. However, the blossom time is transitory and is soon followed by summer when lush leaves sprout and the trees bear fruit.
Apart from the glorious pink blossoms at their peak, this book is notable and fascinating for other reasons. The Sakura or cherry blossom festival is of high cultural importance in Japan. Stalls are set up, lanterns are hung and people gather during the day and night to enjoy the beauty of the blossoms. The people’s response to the Sakura flowers is significant.
At the beginning of the book we see the people rushing about in their daily lives. They hustle to the train station and constantly feel that they are running late. But this changes when the days start to show the promise of spring. The bare Sakura trees now burst “with red-ochre buds turning pistachio green”. The “pale pink petals of the Sakura flowers” emerge and unfold until they have the “full five petals of the cherry blossoms”. The birds visit. The people continue moving with haste until they realise that the blossoms are at their peak and it is Sakura Festival time. The rush of the everyday routine is almost magically transformed into a holiday atmosphere and picnic time. People slow down and appreciate the beauty of the flowering trees as well as their lives.
Even though the time of the Sakura is ephemeral, the people are content to be immersed in its beauty while it lasts, without anxiety for what comes next or pining for the past. Although normal life resumes, the steady, cyclic turning of the seasons is a comforting metaphor for life.
Like the Sakura blossoms themselves, this book is a work of beauty and reflection.
The author/illustrator, Narisa Togo, is an illustrator and printmaker who is based in Japan.
When the Sakura Bloom is translated by Michael Sedunary and published by Berbay Publishing. Berbay is an Australian company producing quality picture books, each with something out of the ordinary.