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Cherry Blossom Landscapes (Photos)

Saitō Ryōichi (Photographer)[Profile]

Cherry blossoms have a special significance for the Japanese. Since ancient times, people’s hearts have soared as the cherry trees come into bloom, heralding the return of spring. Photographer Saitō Ryōichi has traveled the length and breadth of the archipelago to compile this collection of images encapsulating the joys of the Japanese spring.

Every spring, when the warm weather arrives and the cherry blossoms come into bloom, I think about how great it would be to follow the “cherry blossom front” as it makes its way north up the Japanese archipelago on the nightly TV news bulletins. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Several years ago, it occurred to me that photography could help me make this otherwise impossible dream come true. Since then, I have been traveling to different parts of the country with my camera each spring to capture the flowers in bloom.

One thing I’ve realized since I started the project is that in fact the blossoms don’t necessarily bloom in the south and then move gradually north. Some years Tokyo comes into bloom before Kyūshū, nearly 1,000 kilometers to the southwest. The timing and duration of the blossoms varies to a surprising degree from year to year too, even for the same trees.

These days, you can get quite detailed information on where and when the flowers are in bloom around the country—but of course it is impossible to control the weather. The cherry blossoms in full bloom are a magnificent spectacle—but also a notoriously short-lived one. Sometimes I have made a special trip to see the blossoms in a particular place, only to be told when I get there that the blossoms finished the day before. Another problem is the spring rain. If you’re unlucky, the whole thing can get washed out, forcing you to wait and come back again next year.

Cherry blossoms—and trees in general—are difficult subjects for a photographer. The life force and the aura of dignity that emanates from a tree that has been alive for decades or even centuries are not easy to capture in a photograph. I am full of admiration for photographers who tackle this problem head-on. But for me, it is the interaction between the blossoms and human beings that makes sakura an interesting subject.

What is it that makes this time of year so thrilling? What drives Japanese people to gather together under the cherry trees to eat, drink, and be merry? Every spring I ask myself these questions as I travel the country, trying to capture with my lens the unique social landscapes created by the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

(Photographs and text by Saitō Ryōichi)

  • [2012.04.09]

Award-winning photographer who studied under Miki Jun. Specializes in photographs of people, scenery, and culture. Published collections include India: Shitamachi gekijō (India: Downtown Theater) and Yoki hi (A Beautiful Day).


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