The spectacular cherry tree-lined boulevards in the West End are the first signs of spring. And April is the month to celebrate the cherry blossoms.
“For [the] Japanese, cherry blossoms are the symbol of new entrance and hope,” says Mari Honma, principal of Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall.
She says that for the Japanese, April is the month of a new start, just like January is for Canadians. And just like here, in Japan, the cherry flowers bloom in April.
In Japan, the tradition is to celebrate cherry blossoms with a Hanami festival.
“People gather under cherry trees to eat, drink and enjoy the beauty of the blossoms,” says Homna.
Cherry flowers remind Honma and her colleague Mitsuru Haga about Japan.
“What the flowers represent to us goes deep in our history, into the spirits of Samurais,” says Haga.
There are over 40,000 ornamental cherry trees blooming in Vancouver. Here in the mosaic of cultures, if you ask people what the cherry blossoms symbolize to them, you’ll get different answers depending on the cultural backgrounds represented.
For Linda Poole, founder and director of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, the flowers stand for beauty and joy.
“After a long dreary winter, they [cherry blossoms] are so brave, the first to come and it takes them time to blossom,” says Poole. “It makes everybody happy. Vancouver is quite a grey city with greyish mountains, sea and sky.“
“The cherry flowers make the city look so great. Everybody feels so proud about Vancouver because it is so pretty. It is the only city in Canada, with so many cherry trees,” adds Poole.
People think Vancouver’s cherry trees stand for diversity and joy. The blossoms are seen as a source of inspiration for art and poetry, a reminder of home or something exotic that you do not experience in your home country.
For Anita Kapanen from Finland, cherry flowers are a symbol of a mild winter.
“The cherry blossom represents to me the fact that I’m living in a place where the cherry trees are not killed by harsh winters and the spring is mild enough for the blossom [to] actually happen,” says Kapanen, pointing out that in Finland you cannot enjoy this kind of beauty.
Emma Worbeck from Australia, where spring begins the first of September, says that the flowers stand for celebration and homesickness.
“Cherry blossoms remind me of my birthday – in Australia they’d always start to bloom in the week or two leading up to my birthday at the end of August.” says Worbeck. “Since moving to Vancouver, I’ve always found it wrong to see the cherry blossoms blooming in April and not August.”
For many in Vancouver, the cherry blossoms also serve to bring people together. According to Poole, “there are people coming from all over the world to see the cherry flowers blooming in Vancouver. I have met so many people under cherry trees and it is easy to start talking there about the beauty of the blossoms.”
To commemorate these trees, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival will be in full celebratiion mode from April 5–28. This year, the theme is Bollywood-style dance.
“Every year I try to celebrate the festival in a different way. This year it is dance,” says Poole.
“We are bringing all communities together by providing them [with a chance] to learn the Bollywood umbrella dance.”
Poole says that the music is called Zoobie Doobie. In Hindi, she says that it means that, when you are in love, you are also a bit crazy.
So, Poole says, “We are crazy about the cherry blossoms.”