Cultural Exchange:

Cherry Blossom Time

I received an e-mail from Maru about a month ago telling me that Sakura had passed and it was then time for koi noburii. Sakura no Hana (pronounced Sah-kuu-rah no Hah-na) means cherry blossoms which have been the national flower of Japan since ancient times because of their extraordinary beauty, fragility and short lifetime. Sakura means cherry and Hana means flower or blossom. The Samurai of feudal Japan were especially attracted to them because they saw a similarity between their tenuous life spans. As you may recall, the Samurai had an obligation to die for their lord at a monent’s notice. Cherry-blossom viewing is a popular pastime. I did not see them in Okinawa, but I understand that they begin to bloom there in February. However, one of my first dates with my husband Sam was to a cherry blossom festival in the city of Nago on Okinawa. Since the cherry blossoms had not yet bloomed, they had improvised and hung plastic ones on the posts of the street lamp. It was a bit of a let down for me.

Later, when we lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., we would go to the tidal basin early in the morning to see them and walk under them. As an aside, my first duty station was Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, NC, but there were no cherry trees I evidenced.

Cherry Blossom Time and a poem by Jeanne Lamar Slobod

I was happy to learn more about the importance of cherry blossoms to the Japanese. In 1956 when my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania to teach at Penn State, our first year was spent in a house we rented from a professor who had gone on leave. Right at our back door was a huge cherry tree which became an enchanted tree for us our first spring there.

Since, I have visited Washington D.C. several times to see the glorious display of cherry blossoms planted along the tidal basin as a spectacular gift from the Japanese to us. The only thing I know comparable here in Texas is bluebonnet time. When I was growing up in Texas way back then, we didn’t have to drive very far outside Dallas to see them. This year was not a particularly good year for bluebonnets – the nourishing rain didn’t come at just the right time and I made no effort to make the drive to see them.

Last year, however, was a very special year and most happily I was taken by my son and a friend on a most special drive to see them. So very special, I wrote a poem in their honor.


I didn’t want to miss the bluebonnets again.

So we took my secret back road to Willow City.

A peaceful path no matter what the month

Transformed this April into a ribbon edged in blue.

Born in 1917 Texas, I dub myself an expert

When prairie land twixt Dallas and Fort Worth

Lay awash in bluebonnets as far as eye could see

Not just a trim along the edges of a two-lane highway

But field beyond field – then it was almost always so

No need to pilgrimage to catch vanishing landscape

This year for me became a pilgrimage

This year the sky above matched blue below

Delicate white accent of bluebonnet reflecting

Great clumps of clouds towering high

Friday’s firmament decked out in utmost glory

A parting gift – it seemed designed for me.

Jeanne Lamar Slobod

Cherry Blossom Time, a special memory – Dora Ruffner

My oldest daughter Amy was born in Brooklyn, NY on the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge – May 24th. Brooklyn has a botanical garden and I recall it having a beautiful Japanese garden near a pond. In addition, I remember a broad walkway lined with cherry trees that would bloom gloriously in the spring. I used to take Amy for walks there in her stroller. One time we went to see Japanese drummers perform their fantastic rhythmic gymnastics on a stage set on the avenue amidst the cherry trees. In my imagination they were blooming – Amy will be 22 next Tuesday!


Yesterday was SHIMO-FURI which means we have some frost in Japan. I prepared a Kotatsu in my house. Do you know Kotatsu? It’s like a warm table and works as a fireplace. It is a place for family to gather and sit around it together. Most Japanese people love Kotatsu. It is a Japanese tradition.

Winter is the best season for story telling. To be who I am, I will tell stories to folks and I hope to listen to their stories.

With love, Maru

Traditional ways of creating coolness

Japan’s short, muggy summer is a challenge for those trying to live in harmony with the season. I read once that Tokyo’s climate is similar to that of Washington, D.C. Air-conditioning is widely available, but relying solely on it robs one of the sights, scents and sounds of summer. If shoji (sliding doors of translucent paper) are present, they are taken out and replaced with sudo, frames holding horizontal strips of split bamboo that filter light, but let breezes in.

Sudare, bamboo blinds are hung outside windows and doors to provide more protection from the sun. Noren, doorway curtains (short, flat panels usually decorated by a kanji character or a symbol on them) hang at entryways to the house or various rooms in it. Translucent yet crisp summer fabrics replace the usual indigo-dyed heavy cotton.

Floor cushions should be recovered in summer fabrics, too. Cushions make of woven reeds or circles of braided straw are also used. Bedding changes also to thinner covers and use of a woven reed mat directly under the body wicks away perspiration.

Sleeping on a summer pillow of rattan or bamboo helps keep one cool by permitting the air to flow about the head. I bought two of these pillows from an elderly Okinawan lady who made them and then went door-to-door selling them. I bought them, in part, to support her way of making a living but also because they were so fragrant.

The final touch is hanging a windbell, a furonin, from the eaves. Jeanne has one hanging on her porch. (The foregoing was taken from Japanese Crafts and Customs, A Seasonal Approach, by Kunio Ekiguchi and Ruth S. McCreery.)

Two words for heart and listening

Dear folks, October 8 is “KAN RO” day. It means Cold Dew. Late fall is coming in Japan. This summer was very good for me. I met with you all and visited the Six Nations People. I think that communication is an important part of our lives. Many people have some skills in agreeing with each other. They learn it in their community, society, school…etc. Sometimes, skill doesn’t work when trying to communicate. In fact it can divide us.

In this situation, when communication fails, I feel it is necessary to say things “3 times in 3 ways.” In Paula’s tradition, we listen once for each ear and once for the heart. The right ear hears the nature of the whole, the left ear selects the path, and the heart provides the balance between the two. I believe that this possibly will help people in the world to communicate better, in a healthy way. With love and pray you have a good October gathering,


Two words for heart

Thanks for sharing your piece on the Japanese having two words for heart as it may well relate to the Native American and other indigenous people’s belief in the power of listening, not only with the physical organs (Shinzu), but also with “the mind of the heart” (Kokora).

It also reminded me of the quote by Helen Keller, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

I have read just recently in a book on Compassion that the Japanese have two words for “heart.”: Shinzu for the physical organ and Kokora used for the “mind of the heart.” Whereas, we in English have just the one word.

Paula has said that language predicts the conclusions we reach – and also that the more words there are in a language to describe a particular thing, the more important it probably is to that culture. She would use as an example the indigenous peoples in Alaska who had many words to indicate different qualities of snow, and the Irish who had many words for the numerous shades of green that they experienced throughout their countryside.


Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. It is basically a worship of or paying reverence to all things in nature, including one’t ancestors. Shinto teaches that all things, animate and inanimate, have their own kami (pronounced kah-me), spirits or gods. In the 1870’s, Shintoism was reinstated as the national religion of Japan and its teaching and activities came under governmental control. The emperor was deified, and people were taught that he was a living god.

After WWII, the state religion was abolished, and Shinto observances became a matter of personal choice. According to Passport’s Japan Almanac, the Japanese do not necessarily practice Shintoism as a religion, but many typical and traditional customs and practices are Shintoist, e.g., visiting shrines or jinja (pronounced jeen-jah) where kami are worshipped. They do this with newborn children and weddings, and dedicating new buildings. A Shinto shrine has the torii (gate), two upright pillars with a crosspiece on top. Per Passports, that is how one tells it from a Buddhist temple.

Shinto has no specific founder and has never had an explicit dogma. Because different shrines have different kami (gods) and somewhat different teachings, the Association of Shinto shrines called Jinja Honcho has drawn up and published a set of principles to define Shinto. The manifesto, called General Principles of a Pious Life, states:

“Shinto is the great way of eternal heaven and earth. Its mission is achieved through revering the merciful consideration of the kami, transmitting our ancestors’ teachings, manifesting the essence of the way of the kami, and promoting the welfare of humanity.

Here are set forth the general principles of the Correct Way, which we will endeavor to practice. We hereby pledge our efforts to enhance the way of the kami:

  • By being grateful for the blessings of the kami and the favor of the ancestors, and by devoting ourselves to ritual activities with a pure and sincere heart.
  • By serving the world and other people, and by building and reinforcing the world in the service of kami.
  • By embracing the merciful mind of kami, by leading a harmonious life, and by praying for the prosperity of the nation as well as the peaceful coexistence and prosperity of the entire world.”