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Cheering for cherries

by Thomas Dillon

If the Grinch — that well-known wet blanket of holiday mirth — were both a betting man and Japanese, it wouldn’t be Christmas he was after. Nor New Year’s, nor the Emperor’s birthday, nor Golden Week, nor National Toilet Day (Nov. 10. Mark it down).

For such targets are too easy. They sit etched upon the calendar in red holiday ink. Any old grump could ruin those. Just ask my family.

No, if the Grinch were a gambler, he would more likely grind his teeth over that day which brings great joy to all Japanese . . . yet cannot be so accurately predicted. Thus he would have to guess about when to grumble.

OK, what I am getting at is cherry blossoms. And the tricky forecasting thereof. For the season is upon us and it is time to ring in the next batch of blossoms.

We just don’t quite know when that will be. And divining the precise date is a fair part of the occasion, enough to challenge gamesmen of any persuasion, grinchy-green spoilsports or whomever.

To start, every Who in the greater Whoville that is Japan takes pleasure in the annual beauty of the cherry blossoms, not to mention the festive picnics that unfold underneath.

In truth, no Grinch could ever be mean enough to mess with such happiness. No, that sort of mayhem is usually left to the weatherman. And spring showers.

And the weatherman used to handle the predictions as well. Used to! For in 2010, the Meteorological Agency surrendered its long-time role in forecasting the rise of the capricious “Cherry Blossom Front,” as it inched its way up north from Kyushu. Such speculation now belongs to the private sector.

So we can think of it as a sort of game, in which everyone can be a player. It’s like picking a winner at the track. You study your racing form/weather data and then make your call.

“The cherries will bloom in the Kanto area on April 1!” (A prediction that can’t lose even if you’re wrong. . . . April Fools!)

Too bad there is nothing to be won for nailing it. My own prediction? The Kanto area cherries will bloom sometime later this month. I only wish I could take bets on this.

For come on now. This isn’t hard. Global warming hasn’t yet upset the applecart and spring still rolls around with regularity. And that is when we’ll see cherry blossoms. Give or take a few days.

It’s sort of like Homer Simpson and his foot. Sooner or later it will go in his mouth. Bank on it.

And cherry blossoms are in that same “sooner or later” category. Yes, Japan is eager for cherry season, but it’s coming for sure, right? Why get giddy over the exact date?

Unless of course you are the company flunky and have been designated to latch on to a choice patch of land for your office picnic. A missed prediction might have you camping out for a bit longer than planned.

Yet flunkies mostly enjoy this. I mean, which would you rather do?

Recline under a tree with your only task being to hold your spot, while you read comics and munch on chips? Or sit at a desk all day, stamping papers under the watchful scowl of your boss? All good flunkies know that “sooner or later” is damned accurate enough.

Flunkies also know the cherry blossom rules. Which are . . .

1. A cherry tree is not considered in bloom until at least five or six blossoms have opened.

2. A tree is not in full bloom until 80 percent or more of its blossoms are opened.

Confirming Rule No. 1 is a cinch. But confirming Rule No. 2 can be an office worker’s nightmare. Or . . . if of true bureaucratic ilk . . . his or her dream.

There is also a formula — called the Arrhenius Equation — which can be applied to determine the exact dates of full bloom. According to Wikipedia, this equation is “simple, but remarkably accurate.” Here it is . . .

formula2

 

 

True flunky-types might do better to wait and count the blossoms on their fingers and toes. A method that is more than accurate enough.

The flowering of the cherry blossoms — so brief, so beautiful, so doomed — is said to represent the temporal nature of youth or life itself. Temporal as in “finite.” A concept that can be represented with an even simpler and more accurate formula, which I now dub the “Grinch Equation”. . .

Life=Death.

Which is why Grinches never get goose bumps for cherry blossom season and snarl over those who do. For why celebrate the firecracker that is life? When what follows is so depressing?

Yet while the Dr. Seuss Grinch was burdened with a heart “two sizes too small,” a strong dose of cherry blossoms might have cured that right up.

For how can one stay crabby under such canopies of splendor? Cherry blossoms may not last, but for a moment they bring out the best in us.

Beauty Joy. It’s that simple, isn’t it?

Merry Cherries everyone.