Cherry blossoms dance gaily in the breeze, a myriad of pastel colours reflecting the fleeting beauty of life and death through their natural cycle. Each blossom opens as if it were a book, a book more sculpted than written, the ink infused into the petals to give them their soft glow. It is a tale of the loving care of the soil, the rain and the sun, a story of the insect and the soil bacteria. Yet despite all of that love and care, the ephemeral existence of the trees vanishes from the world, journeying to its afterlife. A grand poem of the living world, the cherry blossom tree lifts its branches to the sky as if its very presence is enough to hold back the darkness and command the sunlight.

***

Today will be the day Sakamoto Tanaka leaves home. He will leave a place that has been his childhood cocoon and travel a journey which is fraught with danger and uncertainty. Nevertheless, he enjoys the thrill of tackling the ferocious waves. He paddles through the Urui River with his fellow fishermen. His boat falls under a rhythmic pattern as he paddles forward only to be pushed backwards by the persistent waves.

He sits in silence, listening to the world around him: the whistling air, rustling leaves and flowing water, giving him the calmness needed for the challenge ahead. He looks down at his aching hands. Calluses, cuts and bruises mar his skin, representing his many arduous yet euphoric journeys. A long array of wilting cherry blossom trees line the river’s edge, releasing an exuding, soft, rose-like scent. Sakamoto’s eyes follow a blossom which falls from a tree, gracefully dropping into the river, which is then forcefully pushed down stream.

Past the trees and against the pale white skies, Mt Fuji stands in the background, overlooking the inevitable outcome. Its rugged terrain reveals raw physical strength alongside vitality and spirituality. The peak of the mountain divides the heavens and the earth, a stairway to the skies. Its peak is dressed in white winter snow which frowns upon the loss of lives. Deep lines stretch across its face, bearing downwards, overlooking those predestined to die, and waiting for them to ascend its trials and pathways to the afterlife. Sakamoto stares at Mount Fuji in awe, as its rugged lines and snow peak are symbols of immense power. The power he aspires to achieve.

Suddenly, the ocean awakens and stirs. Sakamoto’s heartbeat quickens, falling in time with the rumbling of the river. Adrenaline courses through his body as he prepares for battle. Thundering water and rolling waves bear downwards onto sleek wooden boats, forcing some of the fishermen out of the safety of their craft and into the river’s domain. Their despairing cries fall on deaf ears of the sea gods. Sakamoto desperately directs his boat back towards the shore, but his efforts are to no avail. The strength of the water traps the fishermen as if they have become the fish which the river is trying to catch. The roar of cascading water surrounds them.

He has never fought such a powerful typhoon. Panic begins to creep its way into his body. He looks toward Mount Fuji and it stares solemnly back. Its position is one of safety, and at that moment he envies it. White sea foam teases the doomed ones, offering the oarsmen moments of safety. The foam forms a shroud behind them which belies their ill intent. Cruel waves continue to crash relentlessly against the tiny boats. Curves of water form claws to seize control of the souls cowering amongst the feeble wood, tossing them like toys.

The forces of nature collide with the weakness of humankind.  A surge of fear runs down Sakamoto’s spine as he bows low, dodging the splash of the waves whilst praying to the sea gods for deliverance. The first giant wave materialises. Its sheer magnitude deepens the terror within each crewmember. Through their chests, their hearts pump and beat like they’re trying to escape. Clutching his oar, Sakamoto urgently paddles away from the danger zone. The first of the five boats fall prey to the angry ocean.

The wave contracts around it, assaulting it in a frenzied rush. The others turn their heads away as sounds of splintering wood are heard. Paddle faster! Sakamoto grits his teeth, unwilling to accept defeat. The deafening cries of his crewmates are finally drowned out by the violence of the crashing waves.

No matter how fast they paddle, the river is an unyielding predator. It is invincible. He feels the presence of the enraged water behind him, knowing that the battle will only last a little longer. The elaborate thread of fate wraps itself around him. A shadow is cast over Sakamoto as he crouches in anticipation, awaiting his demise. Droplets of water fall onto him and he smells the final whiff of his favourite tree, the cherry blossom.

The swaying old trees along the edge of the river wave goodbye, bowing before Mount Fuji and praying for the provision of safe passage for the blossoms on their journey. The haunting spirits fill with pride and sadness as they watch the blossoms drift away. Witnessing the symbolic action from a distance, honey bees lift their wings to the sky as a sign of gratitude for the pollen that the cherry petals have provided.

Slowly, each blossom flows along the river of time, following its destiny. Today will be the day they leave home. They will experience a unique journey, encountering brutal trials as they pass from this world. The petals join with their fellow sisters and brothers, forming an aromatic floral carpet that drifts towards the sky. Their fragrance is not pungent and penetrating like other flowers, instead, it’s faint and unobtrusive.

Like the moving hand of a clock they mark time in their chaotic way; pink petals, red stamens, blue skies. The sweetest seduction. Memento Mori.