The end of the school year & the beginning of spring

Plum blossomsI have been away from my blog too long. I have been missing writing but it’s almost the end of the school year so marking and testing have been taking up my time and energy. This is no excuse, but it will be a lesson to me to be sure to carve out time to write even when I have lots of other things to do. I’m reluctant to actually say I have been busy, since for many years I had a wise friend called Anthony Perry, actually my spiritual director, who took issue with me throwing that out as an excuse. His feeling was that it was better to be grateful for all the things in my life, and to say I was busy sounded ungrateful, especially as I had created this level of activity for myself. So, point taken, and a wise friend much missed. And really, although there has been a lot going on at school, I have also been doing a lot that has been wonderful.

Last Friday there was a warm wind in the air; haruichiban (春一番), the first strong southerly wind of spring or, as my dictionary has it, ‘the first gale of spring’. It didn’t feel like a gale, but the wind was quite strong and slightly balmy. Today the sky is blue, it’s becoming warmer and the plum blossom is in full bloom. No cherry blossoms yet, we still have to wait a few weeks but the buds are swelling on the trees. Walking home from the station I pass several plum trees and the fragrance is beautiful. When I first lived in Japan I found the cherry blossoms a bit much, so much pink froth everywhere you looked, but the plum blossoms were always lovely.

Unfortunately, with the blossom season comes hay fever (花粉症), not strictly hay fever since this is allergies to tree pollen, and the biggest culprit is sugi (杉) or Japanese cedar. It’s Japan’s national tree, but is not kind to a great number of Japanese (and other) people who suffer from an allergy to its pollen every year. Surgical masks are a common sight at any time of the year; commuters often wear them to protect themselves from germs on the way to work or school, or to protect others from the germs of the mask-wearer, but in spring there are a great many more, as people try to protect themselves from tree pollen. After sugi will come hinoki (檜) or cypress, which affects me slightly, but I am fortunate to not suffer from sugi allergy. A good friend who does suffer reminded me a few weeks ago that my joy at the approaching spring was not shared by anyone bracing themselves for the clouds of pollen soon to be heading their way.

Anyway, allergy-free, and with the end of the school year in sight, I have been enjoying the blossoms and the sunshine. Almost a fortnight ago I spent a glorious day in Kamakura with a dear friend, who was visiting Tokyo for a few days. We visited four shrines and temples; Hōkoku-ji (報国寺), famous for its bamboo forest:

Hōkoku-ji (報国寺)Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮)

Tsurugaoka Hachimanguthe Great Buddha (大仏)

鎌倉大仏and finally Hase-dera (長谷寺).

Hase-deraSometimes I get so caught up in work, in getting everything done, I forget to go outside, to revisit places I love. This day in Kamakura was just what I needed; beautiful weather, inspiring, peaceful places and wonderful company. Maybe it’s human nature to hunker down in winter, to hibernate a bit, and if there’s lots to do at work it’s easy to focus on that. But two weeks ago I had a fantastic day, I came home tired but happy and felt that like the blossoms, I, too, was waking up to spring.

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