Two natural facts have had a disproportionate impact on Japanese culture: cherry blossoms are beautiful, and they fall.

Cherry blossoms, wrote the scholar-poet and shogunal mandarin Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758-1828), "seem especially suited to the ways of our country, with branches so gentle, flowers so delicate in shape, and hues so simple that the total effect is perfect beyond belief."

An interesting character, Sadanobu — "a conscientious and, it would appear, benevolent statesman," the eminent British historian George Sansom wrote of him (in "Japan: A Short Cultural History," 1931). As the shogun's senior counselor from 1787 to '94 during a particularly acute economic crisis, he "issued an astonishing series of restrictive edicts forbidding almost every form of expenditure by almost every kind of person. ... Ordering women to dress their own hair, he enjoined professional coiffeurs to become washerwomen. ... He awarded prizes for chastity, piety and similar virtues."