EP42B Falling Blossoms
Show Notes for episode 42B of our Podcast – Falling Blossoms.
We want to make you aware of the sensitive topics we will be sharing today. We will do our best to present this information to you as educational, and encourage you to do further research as well. Due to the respect we wish to portray this topic, regarding the show format, Thomas and I discussed and agreed to delay our segment on senryu until next week. Thank you for listening.
Before we start, I realised I added no pictures of the types of trees we mentioned in last weeks show notes. And so we will make a seperate post to showcase all the types of cherries we have mentioned over these last two episodes.
Finally, in the early 1930’s it was time to return some of Ingram’s cherries Japan, and that was the kind known as the Taihaku cherry. Now he wanted to do this because, when he went along the Arakawa river with Seisaku, he had shown him an old scroll, showing a tree Seisaku said had been drawn by his grandfather, but it was one that could no longer be found. Ingram immediately seeing it as one in his garden, knew this had to be one of the first to bring back to Japan. He initially sent some to the Cherry Association in Tokyo, alongside cuttings of another type known as Daikoku.
Sadly they withered away.
And so he sent another batch of Taihaku to a cherry enthusiast in Kyoto called Masuhiko Kayama. He came from a family who protected the temple of Ninna-ji and Ingram hoped, if the cuttings could be properly grafted they would survive well in the temple grounds. And so Kayama asked for the help of a friend, Toemon Sano, one of many to have held that name over the generations as it was passed on from father to son. A family of cherry enthusiasts known as sakuramori, or cherry guardians. They advised if these new cuttings he was sending were to survive, they should be embedded in diakon radishes for moisture, and that is precisely how it shipped them. But again this failed, Toemon at the time thinking, they came via the equator, meaning the heat caused them shoots to sprout which then died in the cold of Japan. And so they advised they try again, and send them via the Trans-Siberia Railway instead, this time using potatoes not radishes.
And it worked! They arrived, and they were alive. At first they filled the garden with it, and three years later they took cuttings from their new trees and expanded it beyond the home.
This shipment wasn’t seen in the best of light, political changes in Japan were seeing England now as a potential enemy and so the idea of accepting cherries from an Englishman was almost unthinkable.
One man said ‘How does Ingram know Taihaku is extinct here? Our cherry varieties are disappearing, we’ll find it somewhere. Don’t accept [Ingram’s] offer, it is unworthy.”
Sad to say that Seisaku, died before learning of Taihaku’s return home, which Ingram regretted for the rest of his life. And the fourteenth Toemon Sano died in 1934 before the trees first blossomed.
Sad as it was that this happened for Ingram he also saw it as a success story stating in 1948 that ‘from that tiny nucleus of Taihaku trees, tens of thousands of trees have been propagated. From a chance meeting in a provincial town [this tree] was miraculously saved from extinction.
Having lost his friend Funatsu, Ingram gained a new confidant by the name of Masuhiko Kayama and the two of them started writing letters to one another, Kayama also sending more cherry sample from Ninna-ji and Hirano Shrine, some of them using Ingrams potato method and others via Canada in a thermos flask.
We even have a poem by Kayama written to Ingram from 1932 called Song to the Cherries and I would like to read some of it now.
Oh cherries, cherries, my dear cherries
Every spring your blossoms are a chain of friendship
Between England and Japan
You are a speechless diplomat.
Jumping back a little to the time when he was attempting to return Taihaku home, we see Ingram now looking into the idea of hybridising different cherry trees, which was something that didn’t even happen in Japan until after WW2.
One such tree, he later gave the name of Umineko (Black tailed gull) was through natural hybridisation in his garden. He played no role in it, this tree born from the hybridization of a Oshima Cherry and smaller Mame zakura tree.
And so wanting to be the first person to hybridise cherries he called out to John Charles Williams, an expert hybridizer of rhododendrons and hear he learn to expect a difficult road ahead, with failures sure to outweigh successes.
This involved a very delicate process. The female parent he would keep in a greenhouse to avoid unwanted pollination. When the tree came into bud, but before they bloom he would then cut off the stamen, which holds the plants pollen and once the pistils, or female organs were ready to be pollinated he would then take pollen from the tree he wished ot act as the male parent. At times this would take a long time with blossoms blooming at different periods of the year.
For years Ingram has loved the large Sargent cherry from Fuji and the Kanhi-zakura cherry from Taiwan with a deep red if not purple tinted blossom and so he only saw a beautiful child should they be hybridised. It took years after every attempt to see a resuilt, waiting for the trees to grow and have their first bloom. But these two beautiful trees he so loved, only produced a bloom of dirty white and he found himself bitterly disappointed.
And he tried again, he kept the Kanhi-zakura and instead replaced the Sargent with the Mame zakura. The added difficulty here was.
A: He did not have his own kanhi-zakura
B: They bloomed in different months. In February and April
And so venturing to Kew Gardens he obtained pollen from the Kanhi-zakura and manage to preserve it until the mame-zakura was ready.
And finally he had the success he wanted.
He called the tree Okame, after the Japanese kami of good fortune. It bloomed in March, between the months its parents bloomed and held tiny blossoms, tinted with pink.
And later he had another success, which he called the Kusar, after hybridising trees from Taiwan and Hokkaido, something which could never have happened in the wild.
But soon the world would change, as WW2 began, Ingram enlisting in one of many Local Defence Volunteer forces to patrol the coast and ensure there was no invasion.
And in Japan as well everything was changing.
The shrine of Yasukuni in Tokyo had been built initially to commemorate those who died in the Boshin War , but soon also encompassed those from all there others wars up to WW1. This shrine glorified the emperor and the dead, to the point that the fallen soldiers were dubbed as kami of war and the Japanese people worshipped them.
Soldiers were taught that if they died, they would live on forever as the cherry trees in the shrines ground. A shrine filled on the whole with the short lived and easy to care for somei-yoshino cherries.
Cherry trees which had a lways been a sign of starting a fresh, of new life. Had gone from meaning ‘living’ to ‘falling.’ And the idea of falling soon became the idea of dying for the Emperor and your country, because you would live on anyway as a cherry tree. A tree which was now a symbol of sacrifice and death for state.
And this all stemmed back to the Meji Restoration, when a country divided by shoguns and provinces was united into a proper state. Until then, people saw themselves as people from the province they came from, they didn’t see themselves as Japanese and so the government needed a way to unite them and first on the lits was reteachig people the Emperor was divine.
But also came the idea of bushi or moral ethics, then came Yamato damashii or Japanese spirit. And finally came the cherry blossom ideology. In fact the 1900 book, Bushido The Soul of Japan stated the cherry was a symbol of Japan, and that it was every ready to depart like at the call of nature.’
So we can see before WW2 and even WW1 blossoms were being given the idea of sacrifice and death.
Another book called Loyalty and Morality by Kiyoshi Hiraizumi he stated
In case of emergency we need to fall like cherry blossoms for the Emperor. We don’t rejoice over the blossoms, we rejoice over the flowers falling.
And this opinion was exemplified by the somei-yoshino which dominated Japan by the 1930’s as they al bloomed and fell at the same time.
So where did this tree come from? As far as we can tell it didn’t exist before 1860, but originated from a nursery in Somei, north of Tokyo. They took only five years to mature, unlike other which took a decade. And it prove to be economical due to the ease of growing it. And so as the Meiji Restoration occurred and the new government wanted cherries to unite the people, this tree had mostly replaced all others in key Tokyo locations, they also planted them in castle ground to link them with the idea of fighting of of great warriors which only darkened their imagery. By the beginning of the 20th century, almost a third of Tokyo’s key area were now purely somei-yoshino.
All celebrations over the coming years ensure the government planted more trees as part of the celebration, new parks would be christened with these trees, the enthronement of new Emperors meant more of them were planted in celebration. And not just in Tokyo, but throughout japan to expand the reach of the somei-yoshino. Even most of the trees sent overseas were of this type.
This new tree unconsciously promoted the idea of the collective. There are complaints even to this day that individuality in japan is not looked upon favourably, and one could even link it to the somei-yoshino cherries. They stopped the sheer variety of blossoms being seen, the flower of the people was being shaped into one uniform image. A uniformity that would do as the country and Emperor wished of them.
There were some who questioned this ideology, but the government had by now outlawed this. Stating that questioning the establishment was a treasonable offence after passing the Maintenance of the Public Order Act in 1925.
WW2 breaks out, and as Japan sees themselves losing the government desperately clings to using cherry blossoms to keep the people wanting to fight. And as the thought of losing was out of the question they began to try and persuade the public and its pilots the kamikaze was their next option. And so they once more pushed the image of the falling blossoms.
In fact Admiral Takijiro Onishi, the so called inventor of kamikaze even wrote his own poem to give to his pilots which said,
Today, in blossom
Tomorrow, scattered by the wind
Life is so like a delicate flower
How can one expect its fragrance to last for ever?
There are other versions of this poem such as:
Today in flower, Tomorrow scattered by the wind—Such is our blossom life. How can we think its fragrance lasts forever?
The kamikaze squads were grouped with the name of Shikishima, Yamato, Asahi and Yama-zakura. Each name linking to poems by Norinaga Motoori’s poems on cherry blossoms. A man who lived in the 1700’s
Most kamikaze pilots were between 17 and 25. Young people once exempt from war, now conscripted as they needed more people to fight. Young men, symbolising the young blossoms.
Kazuki Kamitsu was one of them. Only 20 years old he writes a poem
For the glory of the Emperor
Whats is there to regret?
As a young cherry
Life is most worthy when falling.
Other wrote to their parents saying:
Dear Parents please congratulate me. I have been given a splendid opportunity to die. This is my last day. The destiny of our homeland hinges on the decisive battle in the sea to the south where I shall fall like a blossom from a radiant cherry tree.
The cherry blossoms are falling
One after another
I also want to fall now
Leaving the scent
In Yamato Country
And later still he writes:
You and I are cherry blossom brothers
Blooming together in the military academy garden
Having blossomed, we must scatter
Let us fall magnificently for our country.
A song sung by the pilots went as follows:
Whats important is the flowers falling
If you are a man
Just act and fall.
But in the end Japan surrendered, the blossom ideology of the government hadn’t worked.
The somei-yoshino did come back though, Japans cities were now bereft of colour from the bombings of the war. And though they distanced the ideology of the trees of death, they still planted these trees in the thousands likely to their quick growth rate and delicate beauty. In fact this began as early as 1948 and now this variety consist of 9 out of 10 trees in urban areas.
In 1951 we see the first publications of the cherry blossom forecasts appearing by the Meteorological Agency which soon led to the hanami viewing parties which are a big part of Japan to this day.
And so we return to Ingram.
Blossoms had been bombed and lost in japan, his home was unscathed, the blooms he had rescued growing safely in his garden.
He had spent the War in the Volunteer service but he had also watched the blooms thrive, and so in 1948 he had published Ornamental Cherries which detailed all 129 cherry varieties that he had, dedicating it to ‘all who have planted cherry trees, whatever there creed, caste or colour.
By now such was his fame, even the Queen of England had become interested and had cherry trees planted in various owned properties of the Royal Family.
In the 50’s and 60’s Collingwood seems to have lost some of his passion, he was now well into his 70’s, most of his cherry enthusiast friends had now died and he had come to the realisation, that the trees made by man did not live as long as the natural cherry trees. Only living for around 40 or 50 years.
He started to bring together everything he had written over his lifetime to write some autobiographical books. And he even turned his attention back to ornithology.
On November 29th 1979, his wife Florence died aged 97, leaving Ingram alone in a big house. Ingram continued on, reaching his 100th birthday, and to recognise his achievements a botanist called Michael Zander came to his home to map the trees Ingram had started collecting all those years ago. But by now several of the trees were gone due to their short lifespan. Some like the Hokusai, Imose and Taihaku still remained, but others had gone. By now there were 40 or 50 trees, much less than the 120 varieties he had once had.
Spring 1981 would be his last, the Kursar bloomed, then the Yama-zakura, soon followed the Hokusai and Taihaku until finally Ingram died peacefully as the Imose shed its blooms from his garden, May 19th 1981.
And so to end on a poem by Saigyo Hoshi.
Let me die in spring
under the blossoming trees,
let it be around
that full moon of
- Abe, N. (2020) “Cherry Ingram: The Englishman who saved Japan’s Blossoms.” London: Penguin Random House.
- Japan Times: Blooms of Death
- Nitobe, I. (1900) Bushido: The Soul of Japan. Republished 2013 by London: Amber Books Ltd.
- Poetry Foundation: Takijiro Onishi
You can listen to the full episode over on Anchor here: Japan Archives, or wherever you listen to Podcasts.
Be sure to check out Heather’s blog on lifes little adventures here: HeatherOverYonder.
We also started a Youtube channel for other creative endeavours!