Caged Beauty: Cherry Blossoms in Nara, Japan

Caged beauty. Photo: Raquel Garcia.

The cherry blossom blooms signify a new start in Japan. Photos of entrance ceremonies for new school years and new jobs are taken in front of cherry blossom trees. I’ve lived in Japan for seven years and the cherry blossoms are always a sign for me that after a long winter, there’s something beautiful to look forward to. This past winter was one of the hardest times in my life. I suffer from Bipolar 2 Disorder which means that my depressive episodes, my lows, are much more intense and long-lasting compared to my highs. In October 2023, we started receiving the news of the attacks on Palestine. Our news feeds were, and still are, constant reminders of the atrocities humans are capable of doing. I felt helpless. If I am unable to control my own life and emotions, how can I ever hope to exert pressure on the world around me to encourage change? I couldn’t imagine a reason to go on. My only tether to life became my desire to see the cherry blossoms bloom once more. So I held on.

In April, I traveled to southern Japan to the ancient city of Nara during peak cherry blossom bloom. Nara was the capital of Japan before the 1st century and has the world’s largest wooden building, Todiaji Temple. Todaiji Temple became the center of Buddhism, and the deer in the area were venerated as holy animals. Today the deer still roam freely in the park surrounding the temple. The cherry blossom trees also surround the temple and the path to the temple, but the trees can be damaged by the deer. Metal wire is put around the trees to protect the deer from damaging the tree trunks. I took this photo as it reminded me of the famous “Flower Power” photograph of the ‘70s, where protesters of the Vietnam War inserted flowers into the barrels of guns. The cherry blossoms poking through the wire and thriving despite their surroundings are an eternal reminder that there is power in surviving, in shoving through the metal cages that surround us and pushing through to the other side. In a world full of hate and anger, peace can still bloom. In a world where nations and politics divide, people are coming together the world over to protest the crimes in Palestine, ensuring the massacres will not happen silently. In a world full of beauty, every life is valuable.

Despite the beauty of the cherry blossoms, they only bloom for a few days until they fall and are blown away by the wind. I saw the cherry blossoms come and go this year. And I know that next year I will also see them again. 

Editor’s Note: Raquel Garcia’s photograph was an honorable mention in The Kiosk’s Spring 2024 Photojournalism Contest.

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