Look away from the great, grand dramas in life. they never seem to last. Look instead to the small, the enduring rituals that last in perpetuity and add meaning to our lives. These events seem diminutive and insignificant, but they contain a gem of infinity. You might think it impossible to convert the insignificant into “forever”…but that’s until you come to Japan. See what those guys do with the everyday normal events of life:
Cherry blossom viewing
Hot spring baths
Day celebrating children
Spring house cleaning or even Marie Kondo’s tidying up
We all care about tea, the moon and children, but Japanese make them into eternal rituals that go on forever.
With that in mind, I spent a day and $100 riding the train down from Tokyo to Atami so I could participate in the February plum blossom viewing ritual. I was not alone! Five or six thousand Japanese and tourists crowded the mountain valley that sunny Sunday in February. The plum orchard was gorgeous and fragrant with all varieties of pink, red and white flowering trees. Unlike the “Hanami” cherry viewing that lasts for a couple of days, plum trees are in bloom and the viewing lasts from December to March.
The cherries briefly bloom in April when winter is over and forgotten. Who needs a “picker upper then”? It’s in the depth of winter gloom that we need a visual and aromatic boost.
My 5,000 viewing companions were seniors, like much of Japan these days. Flower viewing for them was a chance to get out of the house and a welcome change of scenery. They shuffle along the steep path, stopping to photograph, sniff or admire every blossom. Younger people would at best be impatient with the pace or think the geezers are pathetic. But that is not right.
That mountain path was crowded last week. It was crowded last year and for centuries before that. It is a trivial nothing event, and yet it’s a gem of eternity that will endure long after the bigger dramas are gone.
Earth quakes, typhoons, Hiroshima, they are gone now, but Japan’s tea ceremonies and moon viewing rituals endure. These customs preserve the nation’s unity and shared spirit. The rest of us pay homage to aesthetics, arts, spiritual elevation because they relate to the eternal, the way church once did.
It’s understandable but frightening for us to accept that the sound and fury of our lives will end one day and be forgotten. As Shakespeare suggests,
We are but “… a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Little wonder we are pulled towards the eternal, the rituals with their gem of infinity”