© Anushka Bose. All rights reserved.*
In the last two weeks, I got to experience my first Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C, a hallmark feature of D.C.’s culture and vibrancy. Seeing the cherry blossoms at their peak was an engagement with the concept of mono-no-aware, a Japanese expression for being deeply immersed in the sentimentality of an object; a sight, an emotion; a feeling.
The term was first coined by 18th-century literary scholar, Motoori Norinaga. Mono—meaning “things,” and aware, roughly meaning “sadness”, or “sensitivity,” and effectively translates the Japanese expression of mono-no-aware into English as “the pathos of all things.” This translation might prompt us to form a melancholic association with the word; instead, its usage is more bittersweet—defined both by the deep sensitivity of things, accompanied by the faint aura of intransigence, like the last sip of your delicious morning coffee, or absorbing the last second of a cozy hug with a loved one before you part, or the last hour of sleep on a Sunday morning, when the sun shines through the crack of your window curtains, while the light travels across the room, prompting you to slowly open your eyes to the beauty of and awareness of the last day of the weekend.
The Japanese Cherry Blossoms, called Sakura in Japanese, could be an effective symbolization of the concept of mono-no-aware. These flowers have historically symbolized the warrior spirit in feudal Japan, carrying the dichotomy of renewal and impermanence in their evanescent pink and white petals. An archival excavation into the world of Japanese art and literature would deliver the understanding that these flowers were used to represent the short-lived nature of the samurai’s lives. Regardless of the context of its usage, the Cherry Blossoms are a hallmark feature of Japan’s aesthetics, as well as its rich cultural and historical fabric.
Exploring how these flowers ended up in the United States could make for a fun archival project. In short, in 1909, as an act of diplomacy and friendly ties with the United States, Japan gifted a few thousand of them to the U.S. capital under the leadership of President Taft. Since then, around 4,000 of these trees bloom in D.C. in the Spring and brighten up the city for a few weeks. Each spring, the peak bloom of the flowers occurs when 70% of the Yoshino Cherry trees open up, and for around two weeks, the city is bustling with tourists and locals alike near the National Mall for the Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual feature of the capital that attracts around one-million people.
Since moving to the capital 6 months ago, seeing the Cherry Blossoms has no doubt been one of my favorite highlights. I took countless pictures to capture the beautiful sight of the trees along the Tidal Basin, as well as to document the feelings of mono-no-aware that enveloped me.
Reflecting, the concept of mono-no-aware was ever-present with me during the last few years of my family’s residence in Dhahran. I was all too aware that the tenure of our lives there was impermanent, prompting me to absorb the beauty, serenity, and little joys of life there as I knew it. Now that I think about it, the transient nature of expatriate life in the Kingdom—or anywhere else for that matter—is a manifestation of the concept of mono-no-aware. Savoring the sentimentality of the life around us whilst holding the deep knowing that the said moment is fleeting is perhaps the biggest challenge of our subconscious to live through and overcome. Perhaps, that is what the making of nostalgia is — living moments in the now, that will soon transform into a memory and a weight of the past.
I hope you enjoy these pictures of the beautiful Cherry Blossoms taken around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. I am so grateful I had the joy of finally experiencing the beauty and meaning of these flowers, and it brings me more joy to share them with the wider community. I am sure many people in the Aramco ExPats community have seen the sight of Cherry Blossoms through their travels across the world, but in case you haven’t, I would add it to your list.
Anushka is a current PhD Student at American University in Washington, D.C. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy High School. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, language, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the Third Culture Kid experience. Dhahran continues to hold a big place in her heart.
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