Tagsibol! (Spring!) at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Sakura

Tuesday May 1, 2018

It is with much anticipation, albeit may well be induced, that New Yorkers await to usher in spring after a long thaw. Come to think about it, sunny days are “technically over” after the Labor Day weekend with days increasingly getting shorter and temperatures progressively dipping down such that by February (the coldest month), everyone is psyched up for a change in season. From this April’s last snow still showing its presence after a day’s tease of spring-like weather, patience lost its bearing and the clamor for the hope of rebirth becomes inevitable, more aptly prescriptive.

Last weekend (April 28-29) marked the Garden’s 37th yearly Hanami , “cherry blossom viewing”. This is marked by an exodus of locals and beyond in this Prospect Park, Brooklyn neighborhood with the queue piling hours before the opening at 10 AM ($30 admission). Families play together with fathers carrying their kids up to sniff through the flowers’ subtle fragrance. Also on view are different individuals in their anime costumes, some even in Japanese kimonos, with a few of the men donning their styles for the day. Cultural shows also included traditional dances and a more familiar “Taiko” (drum) dancing using age old trees to create “Wadaiko” drums.

The Cherry Esplanade consists of two rows of cherry trees, landscaped in grass, with seating areas on the side. This was where the weeklong Sakura Matsuri celebration occurred. This event is by all means a celebration of all things Japanese with wares offered to guests in a flea style market with vintage kimonos for both genders, tenugui, which are elaborately printed and brightly colored traditional rectangular towels, the use of which evolved beyond hand drying and aproning; dark chocolate cakes, pins, and preserved fruits and jellies.

With only very few cherry trees at their peak, the anticipated spectacle is by no means in full bloom. But the waft of breeze, allowing for the showering of their silvery pink petals, with some guests willfully positioning themselves under them to be lost in their spell, at least compensates for that needed transition. Further, the flowering trees asserting their presence in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, without a doubt, stood tall for the others which would peak in the next week.

The garden was a gift from one of the Garden’s early benefactors, Alfred T. White, and was constructed in the early 1900s, designed by a Japanese immigrant Takeo Shiota (1881-1943). Through its winding walkways, various landscapes get to unfold. Our tour guide was very succinct in describing its architectural elements which include a central pond that symbolizes the seas (a far cry from a former ash dump during that period which was the primary means to warm during winter). Koi and turtles further add color to the landscape. Welcoming the visitors is the viewing pavilion that simulates a room for tea ceremonies whose unpanelled windows un-obstructively frame the vista from without. Nothing less of utter simplicity and yet of beauty. There is also the wooden bridge, and a conspicuous red Torii (gateway) to a Shinto shrine yards away perched on a hill. The waterfall, all artificially constructed with employed Italian artisans, also have stamped their own design of cascading effects, in contrast to a more sublime and quieter Japanese version. As its main ethos, Japanese style garden incorporates the natural vegetation and a sense of permanence with evergreens, contrasting to that of a traditional English garden with prominent rows and hedges in symmetry, and showy florals. Cherry blossoms are by themselves not a fixture of the traditional Japanese garden due to its ephemerality. Westerners’ association of this flowering tree to Japan makes them easy choices to dot the landscape.

The weekend communing again reminds us of the diversity of our society and how that enables us to be part of this growing community where differences are celebrated and championed. Very astutely needed in such challenging times nowadays…

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