Thursday, June 2, 2016

Kristin White - Taking Time to Smell the Flowers: A Japanese Tradition and Life Lesson

Kristin White is Associate Legal Counsel for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). As an honored North Star Lawyer, she practices environmental, construction, and contract law. Ms. White obtained her Certificate in Global Arbitration from Queen Mary University in London, a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law, and a B.A. from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Prior to joining the MnDOT team, she worked for the City of Minneapolis and served as a Fulbright Fellow for the U.S. Department of State in Osaka, Japan. She is on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Humanities Center. When not discussing the law, Kristin is an indoor cycling instructor, competitive runner, and loves to toil away in her flower garden at her Longfellow neighborhood home in Minneapolis.

As the twilight slowly drifted into starlight the air was pungent with the saccharine sweet perfume of flowers. Against the backdrop of a deep ocean sky, the faint pink cherry blossom branches reached for the heavens, maternally sheltering the small groups of friends bowing their heads over portable kerosene stoves heating the evening’s feast. Underneath the long tree branches, fingers shielding the warm bodies from the cold air, a mixture of sounds permeated the soft breeze: small chatter as friends hugged after long days at work; mothers gently cooing their babies; the soft click clack of chopsticks against porcelain bowls; and the warm bubbling of broth boiling over the stoves.

Sakura Matsuri translates in Japanese to flower celebration or festival. And for the two weeks every spring that these whispering cherry blossoms flourish in Japan, time seems to stand still. From Tokyo’s 33 million metropolitan residents to the gentle rolling rural hillsides of Hokkaido, a nation quite literally stops to smell the flowers.

While living as a Fulbright Fellow near Kyoto, this image greeted me in my first encounter with this sacred ritual. The idea that life is transient is embodied in this culture through mono no aware, translating as an awareness of things and the impermanence of life. That is why millions of friends, families, and lovers join to lay blankets under the muted glow of the cherry blossoms as they briefly bloom. Even their food echoes the intense awareness of life, as many families cook shyabu shyabu, a rich broth filled with cooked vegetables. The name of this meal echoes the onomatopoeia of the sound of the swishing of the vegetables as they gently swim through the soup.

As our thoughts turn away from spring and towards summer, let us all take a moment to stop and smell the pungent flowers and the blossoming life around us as our Japanese brethren do. They remind us that life moves quickly and only when we take the time to examine ourselves and our lives through nature, the humanities, arts, and those around us are we truly human.

1 comment:

  1. This lush and vivid account of experience in Japan demonstrates how the humanities cross oceans and eras and languages. What Kristin saw and felt when “a nation quite literally stops to smell the flowers”—a sense that life is both transient and precious in about equal measure as “time seems to stand still”—is what I think William Butler Yeats hints at in his question, from a poem called “Among School Children”: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” and what T. S. Eliot evokes in “The Dry Salvages”: “music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all, but you are the music / While the music lasts.”