The Meteorological Agency’s responsibilities include forecasting and tracking typhoons, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, snowstorms, volcanic eruptions and … cherry blossoms. To help the agency track the “blossom front” as it crosses the country, each prefecture has a designated “index tree” to report kaika (first blossoms) and mankai (full bloom). Metropolitan Tokyo’s index tree is at Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine is a source of tension with Asian countries, but the designation of the index tree at Yasukuni — near the agency’s offices — appears to be a coincidence rather than a nationalist conspiracy.

My father-in-law spent World War II on the Amur River in Northern Manchuria peering through binoculars at Soviet soldiers peering back at him. He was a pacifist and a lousy shot, so this suited him fine. When he died, my mother-in-law donated a cherry tree in his memory to Toneri Park in Adachi Ward, Tokyo. Last spring my wife and I bicycled up to the park to see the tree. It was hard to miss, towering above the others in its cohort. Leaving nothing to chance, my mother-in-law had been surreptitiously fertilizing it with the leftovers of dried fish that she uses for miso soup.

During this year’s cherry blossom season, I visited Yasukuni Shrine to take a look at the index tree. A group of children from a nearby day care center ambled by in matching hats, while groups of Chinese tourists and Tokyo natives, some in kimono, took photos of the blossom. Nobody seemed concerned about World War II controversies on this lovely spring day. The index tree is a Somei Yoshino, treasured for its bountiful white petals that linger just a few days, then blow away with the spring winds, creating a hanafubuki, petal blizzard. I am worried about the tree. Somei Yoshino typically live about 60 years, and this one is showing its age. The shrine gardeners are tending to it carefully; the trunk is wrapped with canvas and the heavy, moss-covered branches are supported by six cedar posts. Despite these efforts, the Meteorological Agency may be in need of a new index tree before too long. I recommend a strapping young tree in Toneri Park. Meanwhile, if you do find yourself in Yasukuni Shrine, clap your hands and say a prayer for the health of the current index tree. I plan to ask my mother-in-law to visit with some dried fish.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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