The Sakura season is one of the major events in Kyoto and the whole of Japan! The weather can still be cold here in Kyoto, rainy too, but it can also be a fine day. Many temples and shrines are open in the evening and have illumination in their compounds, and food stalls abound. It seems like everyone wants to come out and celebrate the coming of spring and warmer weather. They even have a “sakura obento” decorated with of-course pink objects. Needless to say beer is an essential part of the party. In parks, actually any place that has a few sakura trees, you’ll see friends, family’s and company workers, sitting on small tarps with their obento and sipping beer and chatting with each other.
In Japan, cherry blossoms also symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, besides being an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese cultural tradition that is often associated with Buddhistic influence, and which is embodied in the concept of mono no aware. The association of the cherry blossom with mono no aware dates back to 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality; for this reason, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic, and have been utilised often in Japanese art, manga, anime, and film, as well as at musical performances for ambient effect. There is at least one popular folk song, originally meant for the shakuhachi (bamboo flute), titled “Sakura”, and several pop songs.
Here’s a little poem by Saigyo: “Sleeping under the trees on Yoshino mountain, The spring breeze wearing Cherry blossom petals”.
Daigo-ji Temple is no exception to this, it all started with Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉, February 2, 1536 or March 26, 1537 – September 18, 1598), who held a famous cherry-blossom-viewing party in 1598 at the Sambō-in sub-temple. Wikipedia describes the cherry blossom event as “Crème de La Crème” in other words “The Best of the Best”. What is especially beautiful is the entrance pathways leading to the Niomon gate, the sakura trees over arch, and you are walking under an umbrella of pink flowers. The pathways too are covered with pink pedals and almost everyone has a camera of some sort and is busily taking pictures. Words are not an easy medium to describe what all transpires, it is my hope that these pictures will encourage you to put Daigo-ji on your “to see” list next time you are here during the sakura season.
Daigo-ji Temple is the headquarters of the Daigo branch of the Shingon mission. It was built by a Buddhist monk, named Shobo Rigen Daishi, in 874. Daigo-ji temple is situated at Mt Kasatori (Mt Daigo), and the complex covers the mountain from top-to-bottom. The area, on the top of the mountain, is commonly known as Kami-Daigo (the upper part of Daigo), while the expanse, at the foot of the mountain, is called Shimo-Daigo (the lower part of Daigo).
With more than 1,000-years of history, Daigo-ji temple has retained an important position in the history of Buddhism in Japan. Many of it’s artifacts, protected for a long period of time, have been designated as “National Treasures” and “Important Cultural Assets”. In 1994, Daigo-ji temple was registered as a “World Cultural Heritage Site” by U.N.E.S.C.O.