Mae Grace 2024

‘Hana Wa Sakuragi, Hito Wa Bushi’ 

(The Best Blossom, the Cherry Blossom; The Best Man, the Warrior), An old Japanese adage

March - April 2024

Because cherry blossoms tend to bloom only for about two weeks and wither even more quickly, the Japanese people consider sakura as a symbol of life that’s evanescent and fleeting. During the era of imperial expansion from the 19th century up to the end of WWII, the meaning assigned to cherry blossoms veered towards a more militarized significance to symbolize honorable death for the soldiers, figuratively, being so much like those beautiful blossoms fluttering quickly out of sight. It was said that around this period, many sakura trees were planted as they were believed to have consoled the souls of those soldiers who died in the war.  Eventually, new meanings were assigned as later on they have become symbols of peace.

I have often wondered as I gaze in awe at those ‘namiki’ or waves and waves of sakura trees that stand side by side as far as the eye can see --- Yes, I wonder, who planted them, when and why?


There is a legendary Sakura tree called the Jindai Zakura found in Hokuto City in Yamanashi standing inside the premises of Jissoji Temple estimated to be around 2,000 years old. It is large and imposing at 10.3 meters tall and considered the oldest tree in Japan and perhaps in the whole world. This tree is believed to have been planted there by Yamato Takeru also known as Prince Otsu who served as Japan’s 12th emperor in the first century on one of his travels along the area. Isn’t that mind-boggling! The Jissoji Temple is also particularly unique in that it houses the ‘Uchu- Zakura’ tree or the “Space Sakura” which comes from more than a hundred seeds taken from the Jindai Zakura and taken to the outer space by NASA to spend eight months orbiting the earth in a space station, thus, the name ‘uchu’ meaning, outer space. Sadly, only two of those seeds were able to survive and bloom.

The 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (reigned from 1716 to 1745) planted many cherry blossoms along Sumida River.  He loved to indulge in what used to be an exclusive party for royalty and the elite under the Sakura trees (ohanami) and was one of those who made his constituents happy by also allowing them to enjoy Sakura viewing in the spring. The book ‘The Tale of Genji’ recorded the earliest ‘ohanami’ party of the royalty as far back as the year 831. Many shoguns particularly in the Nara area continued to plant Sakura trees and as the capital was moved to Tokyo, more and more trees were planted alongside rivers for the purpose of relieving and also preventing flooding.

Yes, the warriors ---  these strong and visionary leaders took it upon themselves to imagine a world full of gradation of pink and white blossoms, even mountainfulls of them. They basked in the beauty of these blossoms come spring time and wanted to share them with their people and the future generations, their children’s children and so on until this very day. The Sakura blooming season is just around the corner. Does not your heart skip a beat with excitement?


Thanks to these visionaries, creative and wise men and women leaders of Japan who generously shared sakura to the world, who painstakingly planted trees along rivers, on long stretches of roads, entrances to temples, public places, mountains, even across miles and oceans. For sharing the stunning, ethereal beauty of the blossoms and the eternal, enduring, relentless strength of their roots and trunks that are even as old as Jesus if He were still alive today in His human form.

The Sakura tree is a paradox in itself. Considered ephemeral and fleeting and yet, these trees have lasted long and have become enduring symbols of hope, beauty and a sense of rootedness and pride for the Japanese people throughout their history up to the present. And all these because of their good old ‘bushis’ (samurais/warriors) and ‘shoguns’ (military dictators) who made it their life’s work to plant sakura trees and share them to their people and to the world.


There is a Greek proverb which says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” This is so true of Sakura trees and the men who sow the seeds for us and those who come after us; and it is not just the shade that we sit in, but all the beautiful and awe-inspiring blooms that give joy, inspiration and freshness to the soul. Now, let us enjoy Hanami starting next week and thank the God of creation as well as Japan’s awesome ‘tree planters’. 

The Ghibli Museum Revisited

January-February 2024

There he goes again, weaving his magic wand of animation onto the real world of humans.  Hayao Miyazaki won another major award on January 7th just at the onset of this new year, for his latest animation movie, “The Boy and the Heron”.  Watching the news on TV where Hayao Miyazaki accepted his first Golden Globe Award, I can’t help but cheer enthusiastically for him and at the same time to feel a certain kind of nostalgia as my children basically grew up knowing all of his movies by heart.  It was Totoro who babysat them through childhood and remained their all-time favorite animated movie, which love for the character has been passed on to their children as well.


Living in Mitaka City, Tokyo, added to the charm and spellbinding effects of the Miyazaki animated films on my children and to every Tokyoite especially at the time when the Ghibli Museum was constructed right in the middle of Inokashira Park and finally when it opened its door on October 1, 2001.  The choice of the Inokashira Park was intentional, in fact, a deeply considered decision as the founder himself wanted a place surrounded by nature where his characters could come to life in a setting that can be found in all of his animated movies.  If there is a recurrent theme in his movies, it would be his love for nature and hatred for war.  Winning an Oscar Award for Spirited Away in 2003, Miyazaki did not attend the ceremony to receive his award in opposition to the ongoing Iraq war, saying, ‘I didn’t want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq’.

Taking advantage of our proximity to the museum at that time, we would be queuing every now and then to give Totoro a hug, lounge lazily inside the nekobasu (Catbus), watch their exclusive short film of the season, buy some coloring books of their favorite characters or bring friends along for a quick ‘perk-me-up’ when things got so stressful.  The museum is full of little surprises in every little corner and spot.  Sitting at a bench, for example, I jumped with delight when I saw some ‘Makkuro Kurosuke’ (soot sprite characters) in a little hole just outside the museum.  One trivia I relish to tell was the time when the famous American director Steven Spielberg visited the museum himself and the whole place was reserved exclusively for him and his whole entourage.  All my Japanese friends were swooning over him at that time.


The difficulty of securing an entrance ticket, though priced reasonably, proved to give an added sense of curiosity to visiting the museum.  Moreover, the small space of the museum compared to its vast popularity allowed a visitor only a limited time inside, a maximum of three hours to be exact.  Inside, everything was designed by Hayao Miyazaki himself and most of his designs were taken from the backdrop of many of his movies.  It is frustrating however to not be able to take photos inside the museum as it is strictly prohibited.  The staff would promptly call your attention when you attempt to do so.  But what makes the tour of the museum enjoyable is that one is immersed into the world of animation and film making.  Hayao Miyazaki shares his world and his art to the visitor who definitely wonders what is behind those movies where characters are not bound by gravity and the law of nature, where different and parallel worlds exist, where romance is taken to a level of the ordinary while other movies romanticize reality.  This is the magic of Hayao Miyazaki. 

When the hubby took me to watch ‘The Boy and The Heron’ last year, I was so captivated by the sceneries, the landscapes… that same feeling evoked in every Miyazaki movie.  Like a homecoming or a feeling of some kind of a nostalgia.  On a deeper level, the storyline is so imaginative combining adventure and fantasy and profound themes that explore complex emotions amidst stunning backdrops that only Ghibli animated movies can bring forth through art and technology and yet which profoundly reach down deeply into the human soul.  Welcome to Ghibli and let free that inner child in us.