University of Otago Japanese programme participants Sabrina
Goh (left) and Yoshimi Kurusawa celebrate Hanami (cherry
blossom festival) in front of the university registry clock
tower building yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Centuries-old tradition came to the banks of the Water of
the Leith yesterday, when staff, students and friends of the
University of Otago's Japanese language and culture school met
under cherry blossom trees in front of the registry clock tower
to celebrate Hanami.
The cherry blossom festival has been celebrated in Japan
since the 8th century and was originally observed only by
elite members of the Imperial court, who would meet and write
poetry about blossoms.
Associate professor of Japanese Roy Starrs said the tradition
spread to the samurai, who saw the blossom's short-lived
beauty and early death as symbolic of their own lives.
Hanami is celebrated across Japan and the progress of cherry
blossom as it moves north is reported nationwide.
Otago University department of language and culture teaching
fellow Haruko Stuart said Japanese people gathered to
celebrate Hanami, and timed parties with the strength of the
''Spring is like a starting time for everything;
universities, schools and even companies. Cherry blossom
trees are like a symbol of a new life and the beginning of
something positive,'' she said.
''Plants grow and flowers blossom, it's a symbol of hope.''
The Dunedin party featured music from O-Taiko, a traditional
Japanese drum group, as well as Japanese food, martial arts
displays, music, singing and speeches.
Assoc Prof Starrs said Hanami symbolised what life was about
to Buddhists, as early Japanese Buddhists gained insights
into life by observing cherry blossoms.
''Life is transient. The cherry blossom is a very good symbol
of that,'' he said.
''If they were there all the time, maybe we wouldn't
appreciate them so much.''
Flood control plans for the Leith meant cherry blossom would
be gone from the clock tower lawn next year.