Since I was a teen I’ve been attracted by Japan, its culture and the way of life. From cartoons to films, from art to technology, from martial arts to food, there is always something I find intriguing.
In this article I’m going to talk about “broken bowls filled with gold” and about Cherry Blossom. In fact, with these two things in mind, I flew to Tokyo for the first time in my life and I left my heart there, but I found myself! It wasn’t a pleasure trip, I was there for business, meeting my colleagues from Tokyo, working with them sharing knowledge as well as culture and that has really had a positive impact on me.
Firstly, I asked my colleagues: “I want to see your broken bowls repaired”. They smiled at me but understood I was very interested and not just to appreciate the art but for personal reasons.
The art of Kintsugi represents a Japanese tradition where broken ceramics, a usual example being bowls, are repaired using gold to fill the cracks, creating a beautiful lining. This is to emphasize the beauty of what was once broken. It’s a common belief in Japan that when something has suffered damage and has a history it makes it more beautiful and, for them, the same thing applies to human beings.
In their culture, everything we go through, every damage we suffer can’t break us beyond repair. We learn from what happens and everything happens for a reason. Acceptance, finding out what’s been useful, makes our own self more beautiful. Metaphorically, it’s as if we’ve painted the cracks of our broken soul with gold, and we wear our scars and wrinkles as a badge of honor: “look what I’ve been going through and look who I am now”.
When around these people, I really felt that their tranquillity, their politeness, their tolerance, their art, their nature and the places they inhabit helped me accept my scars and I truly felt as if I was painting my cracks with gold. Blessed would be the right word.
Lately, I’ve been equally attracted by the “Cherry Blossom” festival and the deep meaning it has for the Japanese world: the transience of life and the pathos of things.
If I roll back the film of my life, since I was a teen, I’ve always had that weird feeling that nothing lasts forever, especially the nice things in life. This could refer to people you love, your school days, youth or somewhere you’ve lived. Not to mention the feelings you get when you look at pictures or video of your kids when they were smaller, especially listening to their voices. You can see my point.
The cherry trees only bloom in the spring for a short period and, at the height of their beauty, the flowers begin to fall, reminding people that life is beautiful but ephemeral. I also interprete this as everything in life having a moment, its perfect time. Something you love, something you hanker after, “beauty”, the essence of what you like, has to be lived when the TIME is right, when time has ripened to full maturity! Not before (you need to wait and learn to be patient) not after, because the ephemeral will be gone. At its peak, you really need to admire the beauty, that harmony, that good feeling; it has to be lived when it happens or you might miss it forever.
“Cherry blossom” is an anchor, a symbol, a sacred thing for the Japanese people. You can see how people take pictures of the peculiarity of the flowers and gather together to admire the transiently beautiful hanami blossom. They even have blossom forecasts, all to ensure nobody misses the full bloom date. The apotheosis.
If I reflect on Sicily and Sicilian thought, I can see how different we are. Why are we only hoping for a better fate or future and not enjoying the present? The furthest we go is “bad weather doesn’t last forever” but that’s just a negative approach to life. We know that bad times will pass. But is that it?
We have the famous zagara blossom, and one in particular, the lemon, It happens 3 times a year!! How lucky. It’s rare though that people know exactly when the blossom will happen. I don’t! I confess! No one cares. We also have the “Mandorlo in fiore” – the almond blossom. This is more of a tradition but nothing like the cherry in flower. All these events could well provide us with similar “anchors”, something to remind us of joy and beauty when the time comes.
And what about the “scampagnata” I remember when I was a child. We used to stroll to the countryside, often in a group, to enjoy the smell of the spring, the colors, to eat something in season. I would compare this to the Hanami. Why have we lost this tradition too?!
Returning to Japan and my trip, together with this Sicilian “parallelism” from my culture; an image which struck me, and I’m mindful this is personal, was of a “giara” (an earthenware vessel) I saw in Ginza, next to an olive tree. It was almost like a sign for me as it was an even stronger reminder of home. Next to the giara was a cherry tree, the first cherry blossom I really admired in Japan. These symbols, that timing brought some tears to my eyes. A life seen in a handful of seconds, a handful of seconds reminding me that I need to appreciate the nice things that happen to me. Despite it all. Despite the ephemeral nature of life.
On my final day, another beautiful image caught me by surprise. It was Mount Fuji appearing in a clear sky after the rain. The view from the hotel was magnificent I must admit. It reminded me of our volcano Mount Etna. Because of this, the Japanese and Sicilians have a certain similarity. They both have this mixed feeling of “adoration” and “fear” for something approaching a natural “divinity”, our volcanoes, which represent the power of nature. Nature that can, in fact, be awesome, so awesome as both harbor the volcanic power of the earth . Nature can be destructive and our volcanoes well represent this power, which can generate a tsunami and or earthquake.
Almost as a key element explaining the previous two, nature can be both sublime and cruel, it can destroy things and people, but it can take our broken humanity and remake us anew, so in life, so in nature. When the new and beautiful comes, just… take it! Happy Cherry Blossom time and a Happy Spring to everyone.