On the Tokyo evening news every year around this time, the piece of information that everyone tunes in to discover is: “what percentage of sakura (cherry) blossoms have opened thus far?” The reason for this is that the Japanese, the world’s pre-eminent amateur photographers, want to be on hand, tripods at the ready, at the absolute most propitious moment for snapping pics of the pink explosion that defines Tokyo every spring. The weatherman (it is always a man, although he quite often has a comely female assistant to flip the charts and hang on his every word as he dispenses pearls of meteorological wisdom), armed with a nothing more than a pointing stick and a highly scientific-looking blue screen, hijacks perhaps a third of the news half-hour, giving the rundown suburb by suburb, with the seriousness of one describing, say, a mining accident: Saitama, 54% open; Yamanashi Prefecture, 51%; Yasukuni Shrine, 53%; Shakujii Koen, 52%. It is a fragile balance, the cherry blossom pageant, easily disrupted by rain, wind or an unseasonal frost, but the TV weatherman is on top of it, rest assured. If you don’t get decent photos, it’s your fault, not his.
I have little need of a weatherman to keep me apprised, for I have acquired a sensitive instrument of my own for detecting the onset of cherry season; actually, I have had this instrument all my life, but until coming to Japan, I had never used it to measure cherry blossom activity, to the best of my recollection. It is as plain as the nose on my face; in fact, it is the nose on my face, and its passageways close down like the 101 Freeway at rush hour just as sakura season begins, and stay that way for a couple of weeks until the last straggling petals flutter their way down to the curb side. As an added bonus, the pink of my eyes accurately mirrors the percentage of blossoming; by the time the cherry trees are in their full glory, there is scarcely a pinpoint of white to be seen anywhere in the vicinity of my irises.
Still, masochist that I am, I follow the blooms just like every other sentient being in Japan; with wide-angle lens at the ready to document the broad swaths of roseate blush that stipple the parks and gardens of Tokyo,
and close-up lens in reserve to catch the most minute details of petal, pistil and stamens, all rendered against an artfully soft-focused background of foliage.
Are these identical to the photos taken by a hillion-jillion other amateur photographers, all of whom have gathered outside Kudanshita Station at the same moment as I, the elusive 100% moment? Oh yes, except they all have better cameras. And do I have literally thousands more pictures just like these from years past? Oh yes, stored in my computer, on memory chips, flash drives, and CDROMs. And next year at this time, all other things being equal, will I be doing it all over yet again? Oh yes. I must be a fan of mouth breathing.