Well, as it turned out, my father wrote his living will shortly after his retirement in 1985 in preparation for his death one day. Being always prepared, he drew up (in his handwriting) a living will to spell out his final wishes in case he no longer could make decisions for himself; he wanted to die a natural death and with honor like a true samurai.
In his living will, he included a poem, which upon examination I concluded it was a jiseior “death poem.” Alovely poem, the idea of my father writing such verse left me dumbfounded. In all honesty, I didn’t realize he was even capable of authoring such elegant poetry.
Over time, I wanted to decipher the poem’s meaning, and I wondered what my father’s thoughts were at the moment he wrote it. The poem’s meaning didn’t immediately reveal itself to me—that is, until now.
The poem itself is aesthetically simplistic and focused, which is rooted in Buddhism, but it’s also elegant; his words are heartfelt and profoundly sorrowful. The poem stirs up very intense emotions; moreover, it’s very intimacy is deeply moving. As a result, it inspired me to learn more about this ancient custom of jisei to divulge the meaning of my father’s poem and even connect me with my father’s soul.
By Vince Takemi Ebata
February 4, 2018
On my late father’s 66th birthday, he handwrote his living will on a couple of pages from a Mead composition notebook—the pages now yellowed by time. On these pages, he stated his wishes for his death, and in the top margin of the second page was a four-line poem he composed.
Five-years later, my father was hospitalized with stomach cancer and admitted to Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu.[i] He ultimately passed away from heart failure; he was only 71-years-old.
While being hospitalized, my father’s brothers came to visit him before he went into surgery. My father summoned them because he wanted to discuss his final wishes should he not make it through surgery the next day.
In his living will, my father stated the circumstance for which he wished to die: “[if] there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery from physical or mental disability…that I be allowed to die…a natural death like a true samurai.”
MY FATHER’S DYING WISHES
While my eldest brother worked on preparations for my father’s funeral service, my uncles contacted him to relay my father’s final wishes. My father was to be interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl in Honolulu, so one of my father’s last wishes was to have his gravestone marker bear the Dharma wheel, which has universally become the symbol for Buddhism.[ii]
My father volunteered for the United States Army and inducted on February 23, 1942; he received the rank of private and stationed at Schofield Barracks on the Island of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. He was a Buddhist but had concealed this fact about his religious affiliation on his enlistment papers by indicating that he was a “Protestant” to avoid any affiliation with Japan.
He volunteered for the army because he felt he needed to do his share to fight the enemy and do his duty to defend America in World War II as an American citizen and for patriotism’s sake. My father was born and raised as a Buddhist in his hometown of Pa‘auilo on Hawai‘i Island, but he wasn’t a practicing Buddhist during his married life. Yet, his religious connection must have been important to him because 48-years after being inducted into the U.S. Army, he wanted to have his Buddhist affiliation permanently noted on his gravestone marker.
My father’s other wish was to have one of his younger brothers recite his poem at the funeral service. It was at my father’s funeral that I first learned of his verse.
“Cherry blossoms fall
when the time is right,
I, too, will fall
when it is time to go.”
− Roy Isami Ebata
Listening to the verse being read aloud and delivered by one of my father’s brothers, I felt deeply touched as tears slowly trickled down my cheeks. I had no idea at the time, but my father’s poem was no ordinary poem—it was known as a jisei no ku, or simply jisei. But,my father’s jisei resonated profoundly with me.[iii] Westerns came to know it popularly as “death poetry” during World War II. A jisei simply describes theancient Japanese custom of composing a “farewell poem to life.” Such death poetries try to express the sentiments of a person facing imminent death vividly.
For some strange reason, even though more than two decades had passed since my father’s death, I kept thinking about his jisei and wondering why I felt so connected to it. I didn’t know it, but a jisei strives to connect the reader with the author’s thoughts at the end. So, I wondered what my father was thinking at the time he wrote his jisei? He obviously felt that he would die one-day and spelled out his final wishes for his death in his living will, but what was on his mind when he began composing his jisei—what was he feeling? Was there a parting message—a spiritual legacy—he wanted to pass on to his loved ones, his family?
Once I realized my father’s poem was a jisei, I felt as though he had just said to me: “You’re now ready to peer into my soul so you can see my true nature.” Fascinated by this ancient Japanese custom, I began to wonder how well I knew my father. I thought I knew him, but he was more sophisticated of a man than I thought, or he led us to believe about him.
Little did I foresee that my father’s jisei would lead me on to an utterly serendipitous moment while on a trip to San Francisco—a trip that would lead me to my first hanami or cherry blossom viewing. That experience turned out to be the most spiritual moment of my life, one that would motivate me to finally unlock the secrets to my father’s jisei.
WHEN DID MY FATHER REALLY WRITE HIS JISEI?
Based on what I understood about jisei, the poems were customarily written or recited minutes before the author’s imminent death. But, as I mentioned, my father is believed to have written his jisei five years in advance of his death. As I learned, though, it wasn’t all that unusual to do that.
In Japan, it wasn’t unusual for the deceased to have consulted with a respected poet beforehand, and sometimes well in advance, of their death to help them finish the jisei. Sometimes a jisei could be rewriting after time passed and changes occurred in the person’s life, or after suffering from a prolonged illness; it was acceptable as the person may have experienced phases of personal reflection. Of course, no one would mention the decease rewrote the jisei to avoid tarnishing the person’s legacy.
The fact that my father wrote his jisei years ahead of his death, I felt as if I had my bubble burst in a way and brought things back to reality. You see, before learning that my father wrote his jisei after his retirement, I had conjured up such glorified images of him as to when and where he wrote his jisei and the circumstances by which he felt duty bound to write it. Thus, I theorized that there were two scenarios when my father faced his humanity.
Of course, the most obvious such scenario my father would’ve written his jisei was on the battlefields of Europe during his military service in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (“442nd RCT” or “442nd”). The other scenario would’ve been while hospitalized at Kuakini Medical Center with stomach cancer before he went into surgery; he was worried that he wouldn’t make it through the surgery and summoned his brothers to communicate his dying wishes.
But, neither turned out to be the scenario I thought my father would’ve composed his jisei.
Military service during World War II
Like many nisei, my father was small in physical stature—he was only 5-feet 2-inches tall and weighed 115-pounds—but that didn’t stop him from volunteering for the infantry.[iv] He spent more than two years of military service overseas. He took part in three (of five) battle campaigns with the 442nd RCT in the European and Mediterranean theater of operations, including the Rhineland Campaign-Vosges, Rhineland Campaign-Maritime Alps, and the Northern Apennines and Po Valley Campaigns.[v]
My father completed his military service having served a total of three-years, ten months, and six days before being honorably discharged on December 28, 1945. But, he didn’t come out of it unscathed. During one of many battles, my father got hit by German machine gun fire in his right leg, just above the knee. Unfortunately, doctors couldn’t completely remove all the fragments of the machine gun shell fragments. As a result, he received the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.[vi]
It was miraculous my father wasn’t killed in action, considering the high casualty rate experienced by the 442nd. He beat the overwhelming odds and returned home safely. To think that 4,000 nisei men initially served with the 442nd, but the regiment had to be replaced at least three times. In total, about 14,000 nisei men served, and about 70% were either killed or wounded in action. In fact, the 442ndsustained so many casualties the regiment earned 9,486 Purple Hearts (many receiving double and triples) and 4,000 Bronze Stars.
When my father returned home from the war, he complained how his knee would bother him whenever the weather got cold. The metal shell fragments still in his knee would expand and contract due to the cold. I remember massaging his knee on many chilly evenings. He also suffered from nightmares and would shout out at night in his sleep. The nightmares, he would say, were always about seeing his comrades dying under enemy gunfire or artillery bombardment. During his lifetime, and like many of the nisei who fought in the war, he didn’t speak about his war experiences even when asked. There was a high culture of not bragging or boasting about what they had done, modesty, too. But, I’m sure the memories of the horrors of war kept my father silent as well.
Like his fellow 442nd comrades, my father faced death every day fighting on the battlefields of Italy and southern France. It’s hard to imagine how frightening it must’ve been out on the battlefields knowing he could get killed at any time. It seems there would’ve been countless number of times my father felt it was the right time to write his jisei.
Many samurai were known to write their jisei before entering battles. They would ride into battle with their jisei tucked inside their armor so in case they died, someone would carry back the jisei to their families. Like the samurai, my father could’ve carried his jisei into each battle tucked away in the pocket of his army fatigues. I even imagined my father holding down in a damp foxhole or dugout on a freezing night with dense fog, mud, and heavy rain, writing his jisei while anxiously waiting for the order to attack.
Whatever the circumstances, my father may have felt his “time to go” was coming up, and so he would’ve felt compelled to write his jisei. The great news, of course, was that his “time to go” never came up and he returned home from the war.
Father’s Hospital Bed
Learning that my father had cancer came as quite a shock to the family. On hindsight, I can still recall the day I found out something may be wrong with my father. It was on a Saturday morning, and my judo club was having a huli-huli chicken sale.[vii] By this time, my father had been retired and had already written his living will and his jisei. One of the judo club parents approached me and said that I should check-up on my father because he didn’t look well. “Eh, Vince, you betta go check out your faddah. He no look so good,” the parent said (in Hawaiian Pidgin).[viii] “Okay, thanks, I’ll go and check on him,” I replied.
I approached my father and asked him if he was okay. But, he got visibly upset and told me to “Go away!” He said it with an annoyed voice while brushing me off—motioning with a swift backhand swipe toward me with his full arm. My father looked to be in pain; he had this grimace on his face as he tried to conceal it, but it was apparent to me that he wasn’t doing a good job.
I can’t recollect how much time had passed from that Saturday to the time he was rushed to the emergency room at Kuakini Medical Center and diagnosed with stomach cancer. It was apparent, though, that he had concealed his pain from everyone and must have been in agony for a long time.
While hospitalized, it was too late for the doctors to do anything to save my father’s life. The cancer had spread too severely throughout his body and to major organs. It was evident that he’d been suffering silently and suffering alone for some time. My father was someone who would put the needs of others ahead of his own needs, so he made a lot of personal and financial sacrifices for the sake of his family, his children, even to his own detriment.
A well-known Japanese poet, Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), in one of his famous poems for which he’s universally known, Ame ni mo makezu (雨ニモマケズ, “Be not Defeated by the Rain”), there’s a phrase that reads: “Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.”[ix] It was another of those times when my father put himself last that I found to be so heartbreaking. In his stoic way, my father bore the pain and didn’t show it outwardly, keeping it hidden from the family for as long as he could until the pain became too severe and couldn’t hide it any longer. In that same poem by Miyazawa, he stated, “Be not defeated by rain.” This phrase is the poem’s opening line, and it extols the virtues of enduring harsh conditions with good grace. The Japanese call this attitude gaman 我慢, which is a kind of stoicism, a “quiet endurance.”[x]
Gaman taught my father to maintain self-control and discipline even in distressed times and to endure the unbearable with patience and dignity. A related term for gaman is the term gamanzuyoi 我慢強い, a compound with the word tsuyoi 強い, which means “strong” and “resilient.”[xi] It translates as “(very) patient” and “perseverance.” In other words, gamanzuyoi refers to “suffering the unbearable” or having the high capacity for a calm endurance.
To my father’s generation, a man who showed his emotions on his face was considered weak; a man didn’t show that he was hurting. I’m reminded of a scene from the 1999 movie Snow Falls on Cedar in which 8-year-old nisei, Kazuo Miyamoto, is practicing kendo with his issei father, Zenichi, whose character embodies traditional Japanese values. Zenichi strikes a blow with his shinai, a kendo sword made of bamboo, and Kazuo repels the blow. Zenichi’s face—if he’s impressed—doesn’t show it. Kazuo lashes back fiercely, but Zenichi blocks each strike with ease. Zenichi then strikes Kazuo hard, flinging him to the ground. Kazuo bounces back up, snatching his shinai into the ready position, his face scrunched in pain. “Kazuo,” Zenichi yells out. “Never show your pain. Don’t ever show your feelings. On your face. Or anywhere.”
Showing gaman was a sign of maturity and strength of character. My father used to tell me how we must keep our private affairs private, problems and complaints to ourselves, as others may be worse off and has more significant problems than us. Interestingly, the word “jisei” when it’s written using the characters 自省translates as “self-control” and “self-restraint.” I suppose that’s the rationale my father used to hide the fact that he was suffering silently, concealing the symptoms of stomach cancer for as long as he could.
My father knew his life was ending soon. In fact, the morning before he died, my father woke up from his hospital bed very cheerful. He said he felt fine and was in unusually high spirits. He then said to the family members present that morning, “I don’t have any regrets.”
As I mentioned earlier, I speculated that there were two scenarios for when my father wrote his jisei, either in the battlefields of Europe while serving in the United States Army with the 442ndRegimental Combat Team or while hospitalized with cancer at Kuakini Medical Center. Of the two scenarios, it seemed more likely that he wrote his jisei while he was in the hospital, I thought. He must have known that his life was ending soon, and he had the time to write it. He even summoned his brothers to his bedside to discuss his final wishes, which included having his jisei recited at his funeral service.
As it turned out, my father had been preparing for his death years in advance. In hindsight, it was so typical of my father to think ahead for his death. He was a samurai at-heart and true to his Buddhist upbringing, he accepted his fate and was prepared to die; he wasn’t afraid. “Death,” he stated in his living will, “is as much a reality as birth, growth, maturity and old age–it is [certain]. I do not fear death…” Like the cherry blossoms petals falling when the time is right, he felt that when it was his time to die, he wanted to die naturally like a true samurai and without any regrets. This sentiment is reflected in his jisei and in how he lived his life.
Sadly, as I reflected on my father’s death, the only thing I had on my mind was how much I resented gaman. While this stoic Japanese spirit may be admired in many instances, I don’t always feel that way and resent it sometimes. Because of gaman, my father endured silently and alone. I wished my father had just said, matte. mō gaman dekimasen 待ってもう我慢できません—“Wait. I can’t take it anymore.” If he had just gone to the doctor on a regular basis and taken better care of himself, he might have found out about his cancer at an earlier stage. If he had just spoken out sooner about this illness, he might have had a chance to live a longer, better life. It might not have made much of a difference, but at least it would’ve shown that he put himself first for once, and screw gaman!
But, I suppose, “the time was right” for him to go, and he could die naturally like the beautiful cherry blossom petals falling to earth, thus, fulfilling their purpose.
WHAT IS A JISEI?
While the jisei has long been a core part of Japanese tradition, dating back 1,300 years to the earliest Japanese sources, it wasn’t until the 19th century during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) did it become a popularized art form.[xii] Although the jisei isn’t practiced widely anymore, the Japanese still admire it as an essential part of their cultural heritage in close relation to traditional Buddhist and Shintō practices.
So, what is a jisei?
A jisei no ku 辞世の句 or jisei 辞世 is a formal poetic message customarily written or recited near the time of one’s death, and it literally means “passing away, death, or death poem.” Composing jisei was a custom popularized during the Meiji Period. Westerns came to know it popularly as “death poems” when they were introduced to it during World War II when Japanese pilots belonging to special suicide squads called tokkōtai 特攻隊 would write jisei before their suicide missions.[xiii]
In the Japanese language, one of the meanings of the word shi 死 is “death,” so it’s rarely used to reference a person directly. Instead, the Japanese refer to specific kinds of death, such as shinjū (lover’s suicide), junshi (warrior’s death for his lord), senshi (a soldier killed in action), or rōshi (death from old age). Consequently, death in Japan closely associates to the type of life a person lived, so the jisei is an extension of this idea.[xiv]
The basic idea of a jisei is that it’s an approach to one’s impending death and is expressed as a formal poetic message; it’s the final poem a person produces when they know death is inevitable and imminent. Death is an inescapable part of life, and that it’s the finality of life that gives it meaning. So, a jisei is a person’s reflection on their own death at or near the final moment of life can be obviously apparent and meaningful. Consequently, it serves as an essential and sincere observation about that person’s life. In fact, a jisei tries to connect the reader to the author’s mind at the final moment. By transcending a person’s thoughts, a jisei attempts to create an “Aha, now I see” moment. This idea isn’t surprising given the fascination with fleeting things that Japanese poetry may be used to capture a person’s final moments of reflection.
In fact, the word “jisei,” when written with the characters 自制, can also mean “self-examination” or “reflection,” and it’s these last reflections and observations that are expressed poetically and ceremoniously about a person’s death. Some jisei can be gloomy, while others are hopeful. The important thing is that the jisei reflect what’s on the mind of the person’s last days or moments before their death.
The critical thing about jisei is the profound sincerity presented in many of the poems. Emotions often range from peaceful, humorous, sarcastic, or even patriotic—we get a sense of a kind of enlightenment experienced by the poem’s author.
To the poem’s author, the jisei isn’t a legal will, an elegy or a eulogy, but represents the person’s spiritual legacy (a final testament or memorial, if you will) of that person’s life, and it’s meant to be a parting message to loved ones left behind. The beauty of the jisei as a poetic form is its ability to communicate a lot while saying very little, which invite reflection on the brevity of both the jisei and life itself.
The thoughts expressed in a jisei are usually in a manner that’s direct, simple, and free of formal constraints. It allows one to articulate their ideas with a great deal of freedom in the poem’s elegant and natural form. It employs neutral emotions that adhere to the spiritual influences of Buddhist and Shinto teachings, which taps deeply into the human heart, and views life on Earth as being transient or fleeting. It isn’t so much that Buddhist philosophy preaches about death. More precisely, at its very core, Buddhism embraces impermanence or mujō 無常—all things that exist are transient or temporary; nothing lasts forever.
Acceptance of death is a crucial element of jisei; the poem comes directly from Zen’s acceptance of life, including the inevitability of death. With that said, one can begin to enjoy life more fully when one stops worrying about dying.
Here’s a jisei in haiku (5-7-5) form by the Buddhist monk Wagin, who died on January 3, 1758, at the age of 73:
kuse ni natte
It’s become a habit
bowing to the West
New Year’s dawn[xv]
Wagin died two days after the first dawn of the New Year. Based on Shintō traditions, the Japanese bow to the rising sun to the East on the first morning of the New Year, it’s called hatsu ashita 初朝. The West is the direction for the land of the dead and the Buddhist paradise. As a Buddhist, Wagin was used to bowing to the West while turned his back on the rising sun. The Japanese have a saying that you are born Shintō and die Buddhist. This belief doesn’t mean you change religion—if you’re born Japanese you’re always Shintō, but you traditionally follow Buddhism.
Shintō ceremonies, on the one hand, tend to be more for the beginning of life, such as the ceremonies you take part in at certain ages as a child, or marriage, etc. On the other hand, a funeral, and celebrating the anniversaries of one’s relative’s death are always a Buddhist affair. Wagin suggested that he not bow to the rising sun to the East on New Year’s morning because he already belongs to the next world than to this one.
A good deal of jisei comes tinged with a playful sarcasm on life. On a winter morning in 1360, the Zen master Kozan Ichiko (1283-1360) gathered together his students and told them that, upon his death, they should bury his body, perform no ceremony, and hold no services in his memory. Sitting in the traditional Zen posture, he wrote the following:
Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it
My coming, my going
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.[xvi]
After he finished, Kozan gently put down his brush, and then died at age 77. He was still sitting upright.
Other jisei weren’t poems at all. When the 17th century poet Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645) was asked to compose his jisei, he took a brush and just painted the kanji for “dream” or yume 夢, laid down his brush, and died.
There’s also this story of a Buddhist teacher named Shinsui, who in 1749, was asked by his disciples to write his jisei. Instead of writing a poem with words, with his last ounce of strength, he took a calligraphy brush and, with only a single brush stroke, painted just a circle and then cast the brush aside and died. In Japanese, the word for “circle” is ensō円相; its calligraphic representation closely associated with Zen Buddhism.
The ensō symbol must be drawn in one swift stroke of the brush, revealing the spirit of the person at the time when the mind is free to let the body/spirit create simply. Zen Buddhist’s believe that only a person who is mentally and spiritually complete can draw a true ensō.
Symbols of death
Although the earliest jisei was an element of a full ceremonial seppuku 切腹 or ritual suicide by disembowelment, it’s considered impolite to be explicit in mentioning one’s imminent death.[xvii] Instead, it was more acceptable to compose the jisei by using negative metaphorical references, such as flowers, to create specific images suggesting an inevitable death. These images have changed over time.
The Japanese love of nature and the seasons also draws from this melancholy for the passing of things. From hanami, the cherry blossom viewing festival, to tsukimi, the autumn moon-viewing festival, Japanese cultural and spiritual life comes filled with a kind of worship for the fleeting beauty of nature.[xviii]
The point then for many forms of Japanese art is to capture these fleeting moments of admiration at nature’s beauty. Early poems used flowers to represent the transitory world. Later poems, especially those of the samurai class, added other images of nature.
Thus, many jisei came filled with natural symbols, which trace to spiritual beliefs, inferring the inevitability of death or the fleeting nature of life. Such natural symbols reference a sunset, a full moon, clouds appearing in the westerly sky, the song of the cuckoo (hototogisu), red spider lily (higanbana), white chrysanthemum (shiragiku), snowfall or falling cherry blossoms.[xix] The importance of these natural symbols traces to Zen Buddhism and Shintō beliefs.
Images of the seasons
These natural symbols of death also conjure up elements from nature to suggest images associated with a particular kigo 季語 or season in which the poem’s author died. But, jisei doesn’t always have to follow the season the poem’s author died.
The poet, Bako, who died in May 1751, wrote his jisei in haiku form about the hototogisu, a type of cuckoo. He died in the spring, but the hototogisu is associated with summer.
tani no to mo nashi
Looking back at the valley
no more dwellings, only
the cuckoo cries[xx]
My father’s jisei is another example. He died in the winter, but the subject of his jisei is the cherry blossoms, which are associated with spring.
The Japanese like to make a big deal of the fact that they have four distinct seasons, and representation of and reference to the seasons has long been prominent in Japanese culture and poetry.[xxi] In Japan, the seasons change in subtle gradations, and this may have given rise to an aesthetic appreciation that finds beauty and poetry in each subtle change in nature.
The association of the seasons may be evident, although sometimes it can be very subtle. Fallen autumn leaves and dry leaves, for example, create an image associated with the winter kigo—just as colored leaves are a clear sign of the autumn kigo. Farmers getting rice paddies ready for planting, cherry blossoms and cherry blossom viewing (hanami) are related to the spring kigo. A summer field (i.e., Hokkaido’s flower-covered fields), fireworks, lotus flower, sunflower and the cicada are connected to the summer kigo.
It may be less obvious that the moon is associated with the autumn kigo since it’s present all year round. But in autumn when the days become shorter and the nights longer, it’s still warm enough to stay outdoors and the night sky will more often be free of clouds, so people are more likely to notice the moon. The full moon can help rice farmers work after the sun goes down to harvest their crops, thus, the autumn
MY FATHER’S JISEI
As I mentioned previously, there was a lot of speculation on my part as to when and where my father wrote his jisei.
Well, as it turned out, my father wrote his jisei shortly after his retirement in preparation for his death. He drew-up (in his own handwriting) a living trust to spell out his final wishes in case he could no longer make life-saving decisions for himself; he wanted to die naturally and with honor, like a samurai.
In his living trust, he included a poem, which, upon examination, turned out to be a jisei or death poem, and this is what he had written:
Cherry blossoms fall
when the time is right
I too will fall
when it is time to go
It’s a lovely poem. But, the idea that my father writing such verse could’ve composed such a poem left me dumbfounded. In all honesty, I didn’t realize he was even capable of authoring such elegant poetry.
Over time, I wanted to decipher the poem’s meaning, and I wondered what my father’s thoughts were at the moment he wrote it. The poem’s meaning didn’t immediately reveal itself to me—that is, until now.
The poem itself is aesthetically simplistic and focused, which is rooted in Buddhism, but it’s also elegant; his words are heartfelt and profoundly sorrowful. The poem stirs up very intense emotions; moreover, its very intimacy is deeply moving. As a result, it inspired me to learn more about this ancient custom of jisei to divulge the meaning of my father’s poem and even connect me with my father’s soul.
I could sense my father’s sincerity in the poem, and it seems as if he chose each word carefully, and each word tied seamlessly together by each phrase and each line successfully conjuring up vivid imagery of death—imagery so aesthetically pleasing, yet, filled with a sense of overpowering sorrowfulness.
My father’s jisei opened my eyes to something entirely unexpected from him. His jisei created a window openly revealing a side of him—exposing an intimate and vulnerable side that was veiled from view, including from his own family and friends. It’s as if his impending death allowed him to free himself of any constraint from his pride or shame, stripping himself naked of every inhibition and burden from his dignity or guilt he carried on his shoulders, and then he decided to bare it suddenly for everyone to see into like looking through a window. He revealed a view of death influenced by a Buddhist philosophical view that death comes as part of the natural course of life.
Professor Hideo Kishimoto (1903-1964) wrote in The Japanese Mind, “Death is not a mere end of life for the Japanese. It has been given a positive place in life. Facing death is one of the most important features of life. In that sense, it may well be said that for the Japanese, death is within life.”[xxii] As Kishimoto said, my father faced his death properly, and he did so in a manner that was so profoundly beautiful. His jisei had a soulful depth that my heart was touched like I never imagined. Admittedly, it was a side of my father that was a stranger to me.
My father diligently went to work and worked very hard to provide for his family of six. He was a stern man who had trouble showing how to be sensitive or soft. If my father had any softness, he certainly didn’t show it very well or very often. He could be harsh and rigid when it came to asserting authority and exercising discipline when it warranted. He had a stoic demeanor and practiced gaman—he was reserved with a tendency to internalize things with great self-restraint; he was calm and didn’t show much discernible outward emotions or feelings. This demeanor is perhaps a bit stereotypical of nisei men.
Feeling a sudden melancholy settle over me, I thought how sad it was not to have known this side of my father. I felt as though I missed-out on something, only to discover it after he was gone. My father’s jisei inspired me to learn more about this ancient custom. By doing so, I hoped to gain a deeper understanding of my father, enabling me to connect the dots with the father who wrote this beautiful jisei and the father whom I didn’t know.
With that said, I suppose Japanese people have a discipline for suppressing and concealing their emotions and feelings, so it’s not surprising that they find their pressure release valve through poetic verse.
WHAT IS TANKA?
With the assistance of Dr. Gladys Nakahara, a Japanese language instructor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, she converted my father’s original jisei into the classical tanka form and then translated it from English to Japanese rōmaji.
A jisei isn’t a poetic style per se but represents more of an approach to one’s impending death. As such, most jisei written have historically been in one form of Japanese poetry, known as tanka 短歌, although jisei can also be in the haiku 俳句 form.[xxiii]
As a traditional form of lyric poetry, tanka is over 1,300-years-old in Japan, going as far back as the seventh century; it’s even older than haiku. Tanka is considered an essential form of native poetry in Japanese culture.
After the capital moved from Heijō-kyō (present-day Nara) to Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto) in AD 794, the popularity of writing poetry proliferated among the nobility. Tanka was the poetry of choice among the nobles in the Imperial Court. They competed in tanka contests, and lyrical ability in tanka often became a means of advancement to positions of power and prestige within the court.
Up until the 16th century, nearly all jisei written took on the tanka form. The vital element of tanka is the beauty of life and nature and a feeling of longing. Tanka poems were gifts intended for loved ones, so they were written from the viewpoint of the author. Its suitability for directly expressing the author’s full range of feelings and emotions made it ideal for intimate communications. Tanka contains a certain yojō 余情, which refers to the “suggestiveness” or sentiment of the poem that’s felt beyond mere words; it’s like a lingering allure or lasting impression.
Tanka evoked or marked an occasion, and it was essential for literate persons to be able to compose beautiful poetry and even choose the most aesthetically pleasing and appropriate paper, ink, and symbolic attachment, such as a branch or a flower to go with it. No occasion was quite complete until a poem marked its finale.
Tankameans “short poem,” andis a form of poetry that doesn’t rhyme and written in short lines that adhere to a specific mōra モーラ count—that is, the number of “phonetic sound units” per line.[xxiv] Mōras are known as haku 拍 in Japanese. Tanka poems are usually written as one continuous unpunctuated sentence but broken purposefully between all five lines that follow a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern for a total of 31-mōras (haku).
Line 1 – 5 mōras
Line 2 – 7 mōras
Line 3 – 5 mōras
Line 4 – 7 mōras
Line 5 – 7 mōras
To fully appreciate tanka poems, it’s helpful to know that with each line of a tanka the author tries to convey an image or idea, although in the best tanka the five lines often flow seamlessly together to create a single idea or thought.
It’s also helpful to know that tanka is made up of an “upper phrase” and a “lower phrase.” The upper phrase of 5-7-5 mōras (first three lines) refers to the kami-no-ku 上の句. In it, the poem’s author is trying to describe a natural object to create the image or idea that the author hoped to convey.
In the lower phrase of 7-7 mōras (last two lines),referred to as the shimo-no-ku 下の句, the author tries to suggest a viewpoint or personal response to that object.
In-between, there’s a pivotal image (line three) that marks the transition from the description of the object to the response to the object.
Thus, my father’s jisei tried to convey a particular image of his death by exercising the Japanese symbolism of the falling cherry blossom petals to express the perceived image and idea of his death or his view of life in general. His response to that image was to suggest that now facing the certainty of death; he would be ready (for his death) like the cherry blossom facing the certainty of death as the petals fall from its branches at just the right moment.
Falling cherry blossoms
My father chose the cherry blossoms as his subject metaphor because he wanted to suggest a specific image of his death around the falling cherry blossoms’ profound symbolism. But, the imagery of the falling cherry blossoms has a deeper meaning beyond its pure aesthetic beauty depending on the context. According to Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, a Japanese-American anthropologist, the cherry blossoms are a symbol of “the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, on theone hand, and of productive and reproductive powers, on the other,” throughout Japan’s history.[xxv]
On the one hand, the cherry blossoms draw a parallel to the Zen Buddhist idea of life being a great circle, referring to ensō, which symbolizes life as a circle because it’s like a constant loop. There’s a beginning and an end to all life, which underlines the fact that all things must come to an end, and to the Japanese, the end (death) is equally as important as the beginning (birth). The idea of a circle is that the end of one existence isn’t necessarily the end of life altogether. Thus, when things die, it isn’t dead but reborn to begin another circle of life.
The Japanese people view their short lives like the fallen petals of the cherry blossoms. I’m not sure but someone actually calculated how fast a cherry blossom petal falls, and it’s believed to fall at five-centimeters (or two-inches) per second. The phrase “5 cm per second” comes from Mokoto Shinkai’s 2007 movie 5 Centimeters Per Second (秒速 5 センチメートル, Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru).[xxvi] Makoto’s film gives a realistic view of the struggles many face against time, space, people, and love. The title 5 Centimeters per Second apparentlycomes from the speed at whichcherry blossomspetals fall, with the petals being a metaphorical representation of humans, reminiscent of the slowness of life and how people often start together but slowly drift into their separate ways.
The drama staged by the life cycle of the cherry blossoms begins as an exquisitely beautiful and fragile flower. The trees are known for its short but brilliant blooming season, and then it all comes to an end with the flowers falling gracefully to the earth at the height of its beauty and to its inevitable death, and then the blossoms are reborn and to start the process all over again the following spring, and so on. I can appreciate why my father chose the falling cherry blossom as his subject metaphor. He must’ve thought that when his time came to die, he would’ve wanted to “fall” naturally and gracefully, just like the beautiful cherry blossoms.
Arguably, the best part of cherry blossom season or hanami no kisetsu 花見の季節 comes at the end of the season. As the cherry blossom flowers reach their peak and are in full bloom, their petals begin to fall like a snowstorm. The Japanese call this hanafubuki 花吹雪, literally meaning “flower snowstorm,” and it marks the end of cherry blossom season. Hanafubuki is the Japanese word which describes the beautiful moment when cherry blossom petals are blowing in the wind. At the end of cherry blossom season, city pavements are covered like a pink carpet. Along with watching the petals fall from the trees at the end of the season, the ground is left covered by a pink carpet of petals. It’s perhaps one of hanami’s most beautiful sights, but it’s alsoa sorrowful occasion for the dying flowers.
The well-known priest Saigyō Hōshi (1118-1190) wrote many poems expressing the tension he felt between renunciatory Buddhist ideals and his love of natural beauty.He wrote the following poem:
negawaku wa hana no shita nite haru shinamu
sono kisaragi no mochizuki no koro
Let me die in spring under the blossoms trees,
let it be around the full moon of Kisaragi [February] month.[xxvii]
Another poet, Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), known as one of the four haiku masters in Japan, along with Bashō, Buson and Shiki, composed the following haiku:
press me to
prepare to die.[xxviii]
On the other hand, the cherry blossoms have been a symbol for predicting successful rice harvests in autumn. The cherry blossoms are revered with productive and rebirth powers, as Ohnuki-Tierney explained. Believed to represent the mountain deity (yama-no-kami) that transformed into the deity of the rice paddies (ta no kami) in Japanese folk religions, cherry blossom trees signified agricultural production and reproduction. Every spring the mountain deity would come down from the mountains to the rice paddy fields on the falling cherry blossom petals and transformed into the rice paddy deity, which is a critical crop for Japanese agriculture and production. It was during this time peasant farmers traveled to the mountains to worship the trees, which were considered sacred since they carried the soul of the mountain deity down to humans in the villages.
The cherry trees are connected to the rice-growing cycle. Since ancient times, the Japanese system of sustainable wet-rice farming was a very sophisticated system.[xxix]The rice-growing cycle begins around the time the long winter ends and when the cherry blossom trees start to bloom in spring, which was a sign used by farmers to determine when to begin sowing the rice seedlings. In the early summer, they transplant the seedlings to wet paddies. It’s cultivated under the summer sun and produces grain, and this grain gets harvested in the autumn. This cycle has been repeated in the same way for many centuries according to the changing of the seasons.[xxx] This attitude is why the cycle of the seasons are still intimately connected with contemporary Japanese life.
Many festivals are held throughout Japan celebrating the deity of the rice paddy between spring and autumn in line with the various stages of the rice-growing process but are especially notable around the time of spring transplanting, while other rituals are held at harvest time. For example, during the spring there are ceremonies called saori (greeting the rice-field kami) and sanaburi (or sanoburi, “sending off the rice-field kami”), while during the autumn there are ceremonies called i no ko (“child of the boar”) and tōkan’ya (“tenth night”).
The cycle of spring and autumn festivals celebrating the rice paddy deityare seen throughout the country and are linked to Japanese folklore between the rice paddy deityand the mountain deityin those two seasons. Namely, in spring it’s believed that the mountain deitydescends from the mountain to the village, becoming the deityof the rice paddy, and in fall, the rice paddy deityleaves the field and returns to the mountain, where it transforms back into the mountain deity.
Cherry blossoms exemplified the noble character of the “Japanese soul”—men who don’t fear death. As seppuku became a crucial part of the samurai’s Bushido code, the samurai identified with the cherry blossoms because its petals fell at its most beautiful moment, which became the “ideal death.” The daimyō Asano Naganori (1675-1701) of the Aikō domain in Harima Province (in the southwestern part of present-day Hyōgo Prefecture) captured this sentiment in his jisei before being ordered to commit seppuku for drawing his sword against Lord Kira in Edo Castle, which was strictly forbidden and a capital offense.[xxxi]
Lord Asano wrote his jisei, expressing his regret at being cut down in the flower of his youth; he was 34-years-old:
Sadder than blossoms swept off by the wind,
a life torn away in the fullness of spring.[xxxii]
Another interpretation of Lord Asano’s jisei is from Japanese film director and screenwriter, Kenji Mizoguchi, who is known for his 1941 film The 47 Ronin:
kaze sasou hana yori mo
nao ware ha mata
haru no nagori wo
ika ni toyasen
More than the cherry blossoms,
Inviting a wind to blow them away,
I am wondering what to do,
With the remaining springtime.[xxxiii]
In the 2003 movie The Last Samurai, in one of the conversations Katsumoto has with Algren, Katsumoto tries to explain the concept of Bushido: “Like these [cherry] blossoms, we are all dying. To know life in every breath, in every cup of tea, in every life that we take—the way of the warrior. That is bushido.” Katsumoto wanted Algren to understand that a samurai doesn’t fear death because they understand that they have done their duty for their country, and realize they take lives every day. They understand that life is not infinite, and they lead lives that allow them to feel a sense of accomplishment. Their entire lives, they’re training for death and know that in battle they could die, so they’re ready for it, and have accepted it.
Cherry trees reflected the sacrifice of the samurai during the feudal period and the Japanese soldiers in service to the Empire of Japan during wars from 1867-1951. It was considered an honor to die on the battlefield like scattered cherry blossom petals. Each fallen cherry blossom petal symbolically represents each fallen Japanese soldier. Death on the battlefield was deemed to be honorable and Japanese artists often wrote poems and painted images of it, comparing it to the delicate beauty of the flowers falling off the trees.
During the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), Emperor Meiji reclaimed all the governing authority from the position of the shōgun and by asserting the emperor held supreme authority, he established the Empire of Japan. As a result, the samurai lost their social status and privileges. After universal conscription, a newly created Japanese imperial army bestowed upon its soldiers with the Japanese spirit or soul—an exclusive spiritual property of the Japanese that endowed young men with a noble character, which allowed them to face death without fear. The soldiers were told: “You shall die like beautiful falling cherry petals for the emperor.” This phrase was only one part of the Emperor’s imperial nationalist goals and guided Japanese colonial efforts.
Cherry trees console the souls of soldiers at Yasukuni Shrine, a Shintō shrine in Chiyoda, Tōkyō. It was founded by Emperor Meiji and commemorates anyone who had died in service to the Empire of Japan, from the Meiji Restoration of 1868 until the Allied Occupation renamed the new nation-state as Japan in 1947. The shrine’s mission has been expanded over the years to include those who died in wars involving Japan spanning the entire Meiji and Taishō (1912-1926) periods, and lesser part of the Shōwa Period (1926-1989).
Yasukuni Shrine, however, is a hugely controversial shrine due to its position as a memorial to those who died in World War II. Emperor Meiji had chosen the name “Yasukuni” because it means “preserving the peace of the nation,” which could be seen to exist because of (not in spite of) the shrine’s first association with war and reminds people to consider the value of peace.
The cherry blossoms had given the World War II tokkōtai pilots courage on their one-way missions. Following several military losses and nearing defeat in the war, Japanese naval vice admiral Ōnishi Takajirō (1891-1945) launched tokkōtai or suicide aerial attacks, operations in the Philippines in October 1944 as a last-ditch effort to save Japan and the Japanese spirit. Tokkōtai pilots affixed cherry blossom branches to their uniforms and painted cherry blossoms on the sides of the plane before embarking on their (one-way) missions. It represented the sacrifice pilots were making for their country to “die like beautiful falling cherry petals for the emperor.”
The cherry blossoms became a symbol of soldiers, especially tokkōtai pilots, by a military song called “Dōki no Sakura” 同期の桜. Soldiers of the same corps called themselves “dōki no sakura” (Cherry blossoms of the same class/period), suggesting that they were happy to fall and die for their country and their loved ones. Thousands of tokkōtai pilots ended up flying their planes to their deaths. People also believed that these flowers were the souls of the soldiers who lost their lives in battle.
The poet Ryuhichi Tamura (1923-1998) once shared a story in an interview with a survivor of the battleship Yamato. The survivor told him that the ship left Kuré Naval Base (near Hiroshima) in the spring, and as fate would have it, it turned out to be the Yamato’s last mission.
“He saw full bloom of cherry blossoms from town to town and thought what a beautiful country I belong to! For this beautiful country I can sacrifice my life and pray that the younger generation build a peaceful country.” Tamura noted that this was the typical Japanese philosophy; this soldier was going to die for the flower.[xxxiv]
Thus, the symbolism of the cherry blossoms comes from the belief that life is short and beautiful, like the cherry blossom flower’s lifespan. Thus, it’s not surprising that the cherry blossoms evoke a strong emotional connection within the soul of Japanese people.
Adapting my father’s jisei into tanka form
My father wrote his jisei in English using four lines and 20-syllables, which didn’t follow the classical Japanese tanka form of five lines and 31-mōra.Dr. Nakahara took the liberty to modify my father’s original jisei to be consistent with the tanka form by breaking up the fourth line “I too, will fall” into two phrases as follows:
Original Jisei Modified Jisei in Tanka form
Cherry blossoms fall Cherry blossoms fall
when the time is right when the time is right
I too will fall I too
when it is time to go will fall
when it is time to go
Next, Dr. Nakahara translated the jisei from English to Japanese rōmaji, and in doing so, she was mindful of the fact that there are some vast differences between the English and Japanese languages.
Syllable count versus mōra count
The Japanese syllabic writing system of kana 仮名 is based on mōra モーラ, referring to phonetic units of sound. Each kana character corresponds to one mōra in the Japanese language.[xxxv] When text, such as my father’s jisei, is translated into hiragana 平仮名, counting kana is the same as counting mōrae (i.e., plural form of mōra). While mōra are very similar to syllables, there are subtle distinctions between the English syllable count and the Japanese mōra count. For example, Japanese forms of poetry, such as tanka (31-syllables in 5-7-5-7-7 pattern) and haiku (17-syllables in 5-7-5 pattern) poetry aren’t actually based on syllable counts, but on mōra count.[xxxvi]
Long vowel such as aa, ii, ou, or ei count as one syllable, but counts as two mōrae (a-a ああ;i-i いい; o-o おお;e-e ええ). In cases where a hiragana represented by a pair of symbols such as kyo きょ, each paircounts as one mōra.For example, the names Tōkyō, Ōsaka, Niigata, and Nagasaki count as two, three, three and four syllables, respectively, but each name has four mōrae. In hiragana, the four mōrae are represented by four kana: to-u-kyo-u とうきょう; ni-i-ga-ta にいがた; o-o-sa-ka おおさか and na-ga-sa-ki ながさき.[xxxvii]
Double consonants, such as pp and tt count as two mōrae. For example, the word oppai (breasts) count as two syllables but count as four mōrae. In hiragana, the four mōra represents four kana: o-p-pa-i おっぱい.[xxxviii]
A syllabic n んcounts as one mōra. For example, the word for red bean paste in Japanese is an and counts as one syllable but counts as two mōrae. In hiragana, the two mōrae for an (red bean paste) represents two kanji: a-n あん. Take, for example, the words hanbun (half) and kankei (relationship). Both hanban and kankei count as two syllables, but both count as four mōrae. In hiragana, the four mōrae of hanbun and kankei represents four kana: ha-n-bu-n はんぶんand ka-n-ke-e かんけい, respectively.
Similarly, the Japanese name for Japan 日本 has two different pronunciations, Nihon and Nippon. Both Nihon and Nippon count as two-syllable words, but Nihon counts as three mōrae and Nippon is four mōrae. In hiragana, the three mōrae of nihon and four mōrae of nippon are represented by three and four kana, respectively: ni-ho-n にほん and ni-p-po-n にっぽん.[xxxix]
Next, recognizing the differences between the English syllable count andJapanese mōra count,Dr. Nakahara carefully and caringly translated the jisei from English to Japanese rōmaji following the 5-7-5-7-7 mōra pattern.
toki kureba (5mōrae)
sakura chiri yuku (7mōrae)
ware mo mata (5mōrae)
toki ga jukuseba (7 mōrae)
chiru yokan suru (7mōrae)
Once Dr. Nakahara translated the jisei into rōmaji, I attempted to transliterate the jisei from Japanese rōmaji into hiragana.
さくら ちり ゆく(7-mōrae)
われ も また(5-mōrae)
とき が じゅくせば(7-mōrae)
Once I made the transliteration, Dr. Nakahara and by my Japanese language teacher, Yuko-sensei of Smile Nihongo Academy, reviewed it for accuracy.
Transliteration from rōmaji to kanji
Of course, transliterating the jisei from rōmaji to kanji can obscure wordplay. In the Japanese language, a single word can be pronounced the same and have several different meanings based on the particular kanji used to write it and the context to be used. Similarly, individual kanji may be used to write one or more different words and, thus, the same kanji may be pronounced in different ways and have several different meanings.
Deciding which kanji to use depends on recognizing which word it represents, which can be determined from the specific context, its intended meaning, whether the kanji character occurs as part of a compound word or an independent word, and sometimes its location within a sentence. It’s what makes the Japanese language so complicated to learn. Many poets use this to their advantage to build multiple layers of meaning; something English translations lose out on this aspect of the Japanese language.
So, to connect with my father’s mind at the time he wrote his jisei, I carefully attempted to transliterate from hiragana to kanji, being very careful in selecting the appropriate kanji to understand my father’s thoughts, which cannot be done using a phonetic alphabet like hiragana.
|Modified Jisei||Poem in Tanka Form (31-mōrae)||Poem in Tanka Form (31-mōrae)||Poem in Tanka Form (Kanji)|
|Cherry blossoms fall||toki kureba (5)||ときくれば (5)||時来れば|
|when the time is right||sakura chiri yuku (7)||さくら ちりゆく(7)||桜散りゆく|
|I, too,||ware mo mata (5)||われもまた (5)||我もまた|
|will fall||toki ga jukuseba (7)||ときがじゅくせ(7)||時が熟せば|
|when it is time to go||chiru yokan suru (7)||ちるよかんする (7)||散る予感する|
The upper phrase of the tanka “Cherry blossoms fall when the time is right” (lines 1-3) describes the cherry blossoms (natural object) to create the image or idea that my father hoped to convey.
Line 1 (“. . .when the time is right” / “. . .toki kureba”)
The first line of the tanka, when written in hiragana, begins with “. . .when the time is right,” which translates into Japanese rōmajias toki kureba. Both the syllable count and mōrae count is five.The five mōrae count represents five kana in hiragana: ときくれば (to-ki-ku-re-ba).
- toki とき / 時: The word toki means “time;” it roughly translates as “at the time of” and is used to express time when some states or actions exist or occur.Toki connects two sentences and expresses the time when the state or action described in the main sentence takes place. Interestingly, the kanji used for toki 時 is the same used for ji, which means “hour” or “o’clock” (e.g., 2-ji or 2 o’clock). When the word “time” is used as a noun, the word jikan 時間 is used, but it shouldn’t be confused with the use of toki. Tokican be used as a conditional (e.g., “if it rains, then it’s raining”) but, in the context of my father’s jisei, it’s more likely to be used as an actual (e.g., “when it rains, it pours”). Regarding mōra count,toki counts as two mōrae. In hiragana, the mōrae is represented by two kana as とき (to-ki).
- kureba くれば / 来れば: The word kureba comes from the word kuru くる, which means “to come.”The word kuru is a verb and belongs to an irregular verb group or -ba/-eba form; it’s a conditional, meaning it’s usually used in hypothetical “if/when” situations. As a conditional form, the -ba/-eba form is characterized by the final -u in kuru becoming -eba. Thus, in the context of my father’s jisei, the use the -ba/-eba form is intended to refer to “when something happens,” as in “when the time is right, the cherry blossoms fall.” Regarding the mōrae count, kureba counts as three mōrae. In hiragana, the mōrae represents three kana as くれば (ku-re-ba).
Second line (“Cherry blossoms fall” / “sakura chiri yuku”)
The second line of the tanka is: “Cherry blossoms fall. . .”which translates into Japanese rōmajias sakura chiri yuku. For line two, the syllable count is five, but the mōrae count is seven. In hiragana, the mōrae represents seven kana as さくちりゆく (sa-ku-ra-chi-ri-yu).
- sakura さくら / 桜: As a noun, the word sakura means “cherry tree” or “cherry blossom.” Regarding mōracount, sakura counts as three mōrae. In hiragana, the mōra represents three kana: さくら (sa-ku-ra).
In tanka, the treatment of the subject is so important as it reflects an image of nature to express a thought or feeling. The cherry blossom flower is a representative of beauty and linked with spring in Japan; it’s a season often connected with youth and innocence. Perhaps when my father wrote his jisei he was reflecting on his days as a young boy growing up in the sugar plantation town of Pa’auilo on Hawai’i Island; he must’ve had many fond and happy memories of an innocent time in his life.
But, my father used the cherry blossom flower as his neutral subject metaphor for his jisei. He made specific reference to falling cherry blossoms, which are a resonant symbol in Japan and conjures up images of decline, waning, regret, loss, and something coming to an end. Interestingly, my father chose a flower. In Japan, the samurai had a special appreciation of art and beauty. They treasured flowers and considered them a part of the life of a warrior and a symbol of the fleetingness of their existence. Death wasn’t explicitly referred to by a corpse but likened to wilting or falling flower petals.
The flower’s brief blooming time and the delicateness of its blossoms have led to an association with the transient nature of life and the fleeting nature of beauty. At the height of their beauty, the cherry blossoms fall. Sometimes they fall quietly, a handful at a time falling gently to the earth. Other times, the wind may blow the flowers off the trees in mass that billows in the air and rains down to the earth. The Japanese call this hanafubuki 花吹雪, which means “flower snowstorm.” It’s a sorrowful occasion for the dying flowers and marks the end of cherry blossom season or hanami no kisetsu 花見の季節.
But the Japanese don’t avert their eyes from the departing blossoms. Instead, they watch the end of the season as avidly as they welcomed its onset, with a sense of gentle mourning. An air of nostalgic reminiscence and profound melancholy must’ve surrounded my father as he reflected on his death. With that said, the falling cherry blossom was the perfect subject metaphor my father could’ve chosen to create the image of how he wanted to convey his emotions at the time.
- chiri ちり / 散り: The next word chiri comes from the word chiru 散る, which means “to fall” (like falling blossoms or falling leaves). It can also mean “to die” as in to die “a noble death in battle.” Regarding the mōracount, chiri counts as twomōrae.In hiragana, the mōrae represented two kana: ちり (chi-ri).
My father used the symbolism of the falling cherry blossom petals to create an image of his death—the image of the cherry blossom petalsfalling gracefully to the earth at the height of its beauty and to its inevitable demise. He must’ve thought that when his time came to die, he would’ve wanted to “fall” naturally just like the beautiful cherry blossoms and die an honorable death like a samurai.
- yuku ゆく / 行く: The word yuku means “to die” or “to pass away.” Regarding mōrae count, yuku counts as two. Inhiragana, the mōrae represents two kana as ゆく(yu-ku).
Third line (“I too” / “ware mo mata”)
The third line marks the transition from the “upper phrase” of the tanka to the “lower phrase.” The description of the object (cherry blossoms or trees)transitions to my father’s response to the object. The phrase in line 3, “I too,” is translated into Japanese rōmaji as ware mo mata. For line three, the syllable count is two, but the mōrae count is five. In hiragana, the mōrae represents five kana as われもまた( wa-re-mo-ma-ta).
- ware われ / 我: The word ware means “I” or “me.” Concerning the mōrae count, the ware counts as two mōrae. In hiragana, the mōrae represents two kana as われ (wa-re).
- mo も: The word mo is a particle that means “too,” “as well” and “also.” Japanese particles are in hiragana, so mo is written as も. Regarding mōrae count, the word mo counts as one. In hiragana, the mōrae represents one kana as も (mo).
- mata また : The word mata means “bye” or “see you.” In the context of this poem, mata is used when saying goodbye to someone that has died or passed away. Regarding mōrae count, mata counts as two mōrae. In hiragana, the mōrae is represented by two kanaas また (ma-ta).
Fourth line (“when it is time to go” / “toki ga jukuseba”)
Continuing, the lower phrase of the tanka “when it is time to go” (lines 4-5) tries to suggest my father’s viewpoint or personal response to the falling cherry blossoms (natural object) in the upper phase. The lower phrase translates into Japanese rōmaji as toki ga jukuseba. For line four, the syllable count is six, but the mōrae count is seven. In hiragana, the mōrae represents seven kana as ときがじゅくせば (to-ki-ga-ju-ku-se-ba).
- toki とき / 時: As in the first line, the word toki means “time.” It translates as “at the time of.” Toki counts as two mōrae. In hiragana, the two mōrae equates to two kana: とき(to-ki).
- ga が: The word ga is a particle and marks the subject of a sentence, and it means “but; however; still; and.” Japanese particles are in hiragana, so ga, which counts as one mōrae. In hiragana, the one mōrae equates to one kana: が (ga).
- jukuseba じゅくせば / 熟せば: The word jukuseba comes from jukusu 熟す, which means “to ripen; to mature; to become ripe” as to imply that “it’s the right time (to act).” The “-ba/-eba” form is a conditional form and characterized by the final -u in jukusu becoming -eba (jukuseba) for all verbs. In conditionals, the emphasis rests more on the condition than with the result—e.g., “when it is time, it’s the right time (to act).” Jukuseba has a mōrae count of four. In hiragana, the mōrae represents four kana: じゅくせば (ju-ku-se-ba).
Fifth line (“will fall” / “chiru yokan suru”)
Finally, the fifth line “will fall” is translated into Japanese rōmaji as chiru yukan suru. Then, word chiru repeats from the second line, except its meaning here is in the future tense. For line five, the syllable count is two, but the mōrae count is seven. In hiragana, the seven mōrae equates to seven kana: ちるよかんする (chi-ru-yo-ka-n-su-ru).
- chiru ちる / 散る: The next word is chiru, and it means within the context of the poem as either “to fall” (like falling blossoms or falling leaves) or “to die.” Chiru counts as two mōrae. In hiragana, the mōrae equates to two kana: ちる(chi-ru).
- yokan よかん / 予感: The word yokan means “a feeling” or “a hunch.” Yokan counts as three mōrae. In hiragana, the mōrae equates to three kana: よかん(yo-ka-n).
- suru する: The word suru means “to do.” In the context of my father’s jisei, suru is used to mean “when the time is right.” Suru counts as two mōrae. In hiragana, the mōrae equates to two kana: する (su-ru).
Dr. Nakahara used the phrase yokan suru, which means “I have a feeling” or “I have a hunch.” Dr. Nakahara’s choice of using yokan suru is very appropriate since it infers that my father was having a sense or feeling that his life would end soon albeit five years after he wrote the jisei. But, it showed that my father was already anticipating “when it is time to go.” When he chose the falling cherry blossoms as his subject, he already felt that when it was his “time to go” (to die) he would want to die naturally like the cherry blossoms petals falling gracefully to the earth.
He must have viewed his life like the cherry blossoms. He wasn’t afraid of death; he accepted it, and so he was prepared, thus he wrote in his jisei, “I, too, will fall when it is time to go.” To me, this meant that when it was his time to die, he would have no regrets and, therefore, could have an honorable death.
The morning before my father passed away; he woke up from his hospital bed very cheerful. He washed his face, brushed his teeth, shaved, combed his hair, and said he felt very good; he seemed to be in unusually high spirits. Then to the family members present that morning, he said: “I don’t have any regrets.”
SAKURA AND DEATH
My father’s choice of the cherry blossoms as the subject of his jisei was the perfect metaphoras it reflects an image of nature he sought to express his thoughts and feelings about his death. Usually, such natural symbols of deathsuggest images associated with a particular kigo or season in which the poem’s author died. But, jisei doesn’t always have to follow convention of marking the season the poem’s author died. My father passed away in winter, but the cherry blossoms are associated with springtime. He made specific reference to falling cherry blossoms because it conjures up images of decline, waning, regret, loss, and something coming to an end. He accepted death and wasn’t afraid of it. Instead, he must have wanted his loved ones to know that he viewed life as the beautiful and delicate cherry blossom flower. He was very much like a modern-day samurai, and the samurai of Japan’s feudal period treasured flowers and considered them a part of the life of a bushi or warrior and a symbol of the fleetingness of their existence. Death wasn’t associated with a corpse but compared to wild cherry blossom flower petals as it falls naturally to the earth.
The cherry blossom flower’s brief blooming time and the fragileness of its blossoms have led to an association with the Buddhist view of the transient nature of life and the fleeting nature of beauty. At the climax of their beauty, the cherry blossoms fall. Sometimes they fall quietly, falling earthbound gently to its impending death in slow motion as if time purposely slows it down so its flower petals can be observed using the wind and gravity to its advantage and purpose. Other times, the wind may blow the flowers off the trees in mass that swirls in the air and showers down to the earth. The petals fall softly, swirling through the air as if unmindful of the death it would ultimately meet the earth below. It’s when the cherry trees are “snowing” that it looks the most beautiful, something I was able to experience for myself with my first hanami experience in San Francisco’s Japantown; it turned out to be the most spiritual moment of my life and help me unlock the secrets of my father’s jisei. It’s also a sorrowful occasion for the dying flowers and marks the end of cherry blossom season.
The unpredictability and anticipation of the flowers blooming for just a brief time and the falling of the very fragile blossoms when it’s still beautiful and robust is a timeless metaphor for human existence and that our lives are fleeting, too! The cherry blossoms are a humbling visual reminder that echoes an ancient cultural belief symbolizing the short, transient nature of youth and with life itself—when one reaches full maturity, it hints at the beginning of the decline of one’s life. The cherry blossoms remind us that we should be more mindful of our passing time on earth, and to celebrate in life with the same joy and passion as we do for the cherry blossoms because our time is brief, and it can end at any moment.
The cherry blossoms remind us to pay attention, which is tied to the Buddhist theme of mindfulness—to live in the present. The cherry blossoms’ lifecycle makes us question why we neglect to simply pay attention to the living, breathing world around us. Thus, hanami is a time to regain our perspective on life and to make a promise not to take for granted the good things in our lives.[xl]
Here’s a jisei by Kinu, who died in March 1817:
kotoshi no hana no
How leisurely the cherry
blossoms bloom this year, unhurried,
by their doom!
The cherry blossoms are always a strong symbol of the time-based nature of earthly life. The Japanese wait for an entire year to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms, yet it lasts for only a brief time, before its petals being to rain down, in one last final show before the blossoms decay back to the earth. In Kinu’s haiku, facing the certainty of death, the cherry blossoms shine on, oblivious to their finality. As they blossom, they have their whole life as a blossom ahead of them.
The cherry blossoms are testimony that this is the natural way of things and that despite the hardships of life it could even be beautiful and pure. My father must have understood this realization that life is as beautiful, delicate, and light as the falling cherry blossom petals and that there’s a natural inevitability for all beautiful things to end.
An interesting observation I made previously about the Japanese people when it’s cherry blossom season is that they don’t avert their eyes from the departing blossoms. Instead, they watch the end of the season as avidly as they welcomed its onset, with a sense of gentle mourning. An air of nostalgia and profound melancholy must’ve surrounded my father as he reflected on his death.
With that said, the falling cherry blossoms was the perfect subject metaphor. My father thought of the image he wanted to create to convey his emotions at the time he wrote his jisei.
[i]History (n.d.). In Kuakini Health System. Retrieved from https://www.kuakini.org/wps/portal/public/About-Us/History. In 1892 the Japanese Benevolent Society was established as a voluntary association and incorporated in 1899 as a charitable corporation to provide medical relief to Japanese immigrants to Hawai’i. The Society raised the necessary funds to purchase a half acre site of land located in the Kapalama district of Honolulu, south of King Street at the end of a narrow lane. In July 1900, a two-story wooden building containing 38 beds was completed and called the “Japanese Charity Hospital.”
In 1902, the hospital moved a few miles away into another two-story building that had 40 beds. The name of the hospital was shortened to “Japanese Hospital” in 1917. By 1918, a modern facility was built on four acres of land at the hospital’s third and present site on Kuakini Street. The 16-building hospital had 70 beds and equipped with modern appliances and facilities.
During World War II, the U.S. Army took over half the hospital’s facilities, and the hospital was called the “147th General Hospital Oahu.” Since the hospital’s Board consisted of descendants of Japanese immigrants, Kuakini was the only hospital in the U.S. to be occupied by the U.S. Army. In 1942, the hospital changed its name to Kuakini Hospital and Home. By 1945, the hospital was renamed Kuakini Medical Center in 1975 and will celebrate its 100thanniversary in 2018.
[ii]The location of the gravesite for my father, Roy Isami Ebata, is in Section U, Site 1352-A.
[iii]My father, Roy Isami Ebata, was born at 10:00 AM on January 2, 1919, in Pa’auilo, Hawai‘i; he passed at Kuakini Medical Center on Friday, January 12, 1990, at 5:40 PM Hawai‘i Standard Time; he was only 71-years-old. He was dying from stomach cancer, but he died ultimately because of heart failure.
[iv]The average height and weight of the nisei soldiers in the 442nd were 5-feet 3-inches tall and weighed 125-pounds. They were small in physical stature, but they would make up for it in fighting spirit. My father received several medals in service to his country, but the ones that stand out most are the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He earned the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern (EAME) Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Distinguished Unit Citation (known today as the Presidential Unit Citation). Also, he received the Combat Infantryman Marksmanship Badge (Pistol), Expert Infantry Badge, and Expert Marksmanship Badge (M1 Rifle).
[v]U.S. Army Enlisted Record and Report of Separation-Honorable Discharge.
[vi]My father received several medals, most notably the Purple Heart, the most recognized symbol of combat injury and the sacrifice of personal safety. It’s not an award that’s recommended but issued after meeting specific criteria. He also earned the Bronze Star (Mediterranean Theater), awarded for “exemplary conduct in ground combat against an armed enemy.” It’s the fourth highest individual military award and the ninth highest in order of precedence in the United States military.
[vii]The word huli is a Hawaiian word that means “rotate” or “flip-over.” The word huli-huli refers to a Hawaiian-style barbeque chicken that’s prepared by placing chicken on racks and flipping it over and over (“huli-ing”) on an open charcoal fire pit.
[viii]Hawaiian Pidgin English or simply Pidgin, is a creole language based in part on English. Hawaiian Pidgin originated on the Hawaiian sugarcane and pineapple plantations as a form of communication used between the plantation supervisors (lunas) and non-English speaking immigrant workers. Many different languages influenced Hawaiian Pidgin, including Portuguese, Hawaiian, American English, and Cantonese. As people of other language backgrounds were brought in to work on the plantations, such as Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans, Hawaiian Pidgin acquired words from these languages.
[ix]Ame ni mo makezu (雨ニモマケズ, “Be not Defeated by the Rain”) is a famous poem that was written by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), a poet from Hanamaki in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. When Miyazawa wrote his famous poem on November 3, 1931, he was sick in bed, and it’s believed he had a feeling he was going to die. This poem was one of the last Miyazawa wrote before his death from acute pneumonia at the age of 37; it was found after his death in a small black notebook tucked away in a pocket in the lid one of the poet’s favorite wooden trunks. Here’s a translation of the poem by David Sulz (http://tomoanthology.blogspot.com/2012/08/kenji-miyazawas-poem-ame-ni-mo-makezu.html) – “Be not defeated by the rain / Nor let the wind prove your better / Succumb not to the snows of winter / Nor be bested by the heat of summer / Be strong in body / Unfettered by desire / Not enticed to anger / Cultivate a quiet joy / Count yourself last in everything / Put others before you / Watch well and listen closely / Hold the learned lessons dear / A thatched-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove’s shade / A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day / If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health / If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden / If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear / If, to the North, an argument or fight ensures: Go forth and beg them to stop such a waste of effort and of spirit / In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy / In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy / Stand aloof of the unknowning masses: Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man” / This is my goal, the person I strive to become.”
Miyazawa was practically unknown as a poet in his lifetime; his work gained its reputation posthumously and went through a boom in popularity by the mid-1990s on his 100th anniversary. The poem is considered to be (and may still be) a poem that all Japanese school children were required to memorize and speak in unison. It may be one of the most revered and enduring poems of the 20thcentury in Japan. Miyazawa died in 1933 of acute pneumonia at age 37. One of the things I love about his poems is the struggle between man and nature; it’s not about defeating nature but about accepting nature, dealing with it on its terms, and becoming mentally strong enough to endure it. His poems contained moral and educational elements based on Miyazawa’s conviction that man must live in coexistence with nature. Ironically, Miyazawa was born In Iwate Prefecture in 1896, just two months after the Sanriku earthquake and tsunami had ravaged about 9,000 homes and caused more than 22,000 deaths in his hometown Tohoku region on June 15, 1896; it was one of the most destructive seismic events in Japan’s history. Then, the Sanriku earthquake hit his hometown region again on March 2, 1933; he spent much of his time with the local farmers to encourage them to continue their recovery efforts. Six months later in September 1933, he died. It’s the same region also hit by March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. Interestingly, the Japanese adopted Miyazawa’s poem post-3/11 as a stoic resolve in the face of tragedy.
[x]Gaman 我慢, a Japanese term of Zen Buddhist origin, is a Japanese cultural value and means “patience; endurance; perseverance; tolerance; self-control; self-denial.
[xi]Farias, Aramis (2017, March 29). Re: What do these Japanese characters mean? (Quora Blog comment). Retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/What-do-these-Japanese-characters-mean-1
[xii]The jisei dates as far back as the late eighth century to Japan’s first anthology of poetry, the Man’yōshū万 葉集 (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), a collection of 4,516 tanka poems compiled sometime after AD 750 during the Nara Period (AD 710-794). The poems date back to between AD 600 and AD 750 and were written by every class of person, from emperors to merchants to farmers. In those days, composing good poetry was highly respected, regardless of one’s social class, standing, or gender. Women occupying a low position in the social hierarchy often used poetry to elevate their status. The nobility often entertained themselves by hosting artistic competitions and poetry readings, usually in scenic spots such as gardens or in boats floating along a river.
[xiii]The term kamikaze 神風 have been mistakenly referred to by Westerns as Japanese pilots in World War II trained to make suicidal attacks by deliberately piloting their planes, loaded with explosives, into U.S. naval warships. In Japanese, the term kamikaze means “divine wind”; kami 神 means “divine” and kaze 風 means “wind.” The term comes from the legendary name of a typhoon that in 1281 is thought to have protected Japan by destroying a Mongol invasion). It’s the term tokkōtai 特攻隊 that refers to the special attack units or suicide units; tokkō 特攻 means “suicide attack,” and tai 隊 means “unit” or “squad.”
[xiv]Kincaid, Chris (2013, December 1). Jisei: the Japanese Death Poem. Japan Powered. Retrieved from https://www.japanpowered.com/japan-culture/jisei-the-japanse-death-poem
[xv]Hoffmann, Yoel (1986). Japanese death poems. Charles E. Tuttle: Hong Kong.
[xvi]Hoffmann, Yoel (1986). Japanese death poems. Charles E. Tuttle: Hong Kong.
[xvii]Seppuku 切腹 (“stomach-cutting”)is a manner of ritual suicide by disembowelment practiced by the samurai. The practice of seppuku is also known as hara-kiri 腹切り(“cutting the belly”), a term more widely familiar outside of Japan.
[xix]The hototogisu is species of cuckoo that’s appreciated for its beautiful voice, but it’s also considered a messenger of death. The hototogisu doesn’t make its own nest, but instead takes over the nest of the nightingale, and pushes the nightingale’s eggs out of the nest, to lay its own. It’s a bird associated with summer.
[xx]Hoffmann, Yoel (1986). Japanese death poems. Charles E. Tuttle: Hong Kong.
[xxi]Japanese books of poetry usually divide according to five Japanese seasons, which are Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and New Year’s added as the fifth season to the traditional four.
[xxii]Moore, Charles Alexander, Ed. (1967). The Japanese Mind. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.
[xxiii]Tanka is synonymous with the term waka 和歌, which more broadly denotes all traditional Japanese poetry in classical forms written in Japanese.Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17-mōra arranged in three lines of 5-7-5 mōra.
[xxiv]Bullock, Ben. Punctuation: What is the difference between a mōra and a syllable? From Usenet newsgroup sci.lang.japan: http://www.sljfaq.org/afaq/mora.html. Mōra モーラis very similar to the English syllable, but there are subtle differences. Nearly all Japanese “syllables” consist of a single vowel (a; e; i; o; u), or a consonant and a vowel.In the Japanese language, the word “mōra” refers to the phonetic “sound units” counted in the Japanese writing system of kana 仮名 (hiragana and katakana) and other poetic forms of Japanese poetry, placing one kana on each mōra. Kana represents all the phonetic sounds; it’s comparable to individual written characters, like the English alphabet. Hiragana 平仮名 has 46 kana, and katakana 片仮名 has 48 kana.
[xxv]Huang, Cindy, Ed. (2013, April 12). For Hundreds of Years, Cherry Blossoms Are Matter of Life and Death. PBS News Hour. Retrieved from: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/for-more-than-1000-years-cherry-blossoms-move-world-to-emotion
[xxvi]It’s believed that cherry blossom petals fall at 5-centimeters (or 2-inches) per second. This phrase “5 cm per second” comes from Mokoto Shinkai’s 2007 movie 5 Centimeters Per Second (秒速 5 センチメートル, Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru). Makoto’s film gives a realistic view of the struggles many face against time, space, people, and love. The title 5 Centimeters per Second comes from the speed at which cherry blossomspetals fall, petals being a metaphorical representation of humans, reminiscent of the slowness of life and how people often start together but slowly drift into their separate ways.The story follows two childhood friends Akari and Tohno that are separated when Akari’s parents move to another city. They promise to write letters to each other but eventually grow distant. A few years later, Tohno learns that he will be relocating with his family to another city and visits Akari since he thinks this will be the last time they shall ever meet again. In a nutshell, this is a story about two peoples’ growing distances.
Makoto Shinkai, born Makoto Niitsu on February 9, 1973, is a Japanese director, writer, producer, animator, editor, cinematographer, voice actor, manga artist and former graphic designer. He’s best known for directing Your Name, the current highest-grossing anime film of all-time, and was listed by Variety as one of 10 animators to watch in 2016.
[xxvii]Takano, Eiji(2015, November 29). Re: What are cherry blossoms a Japanese symbol?(Quora Blog comment). Retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-cherry-blossoms-a-Japanese-symbol
[xxviii]Takano, Eiji(2015, November 29). Re: What are cherry blossoms a Japanese symbol?(Quora Blog comment). Retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-cherry-blossoms-a-Japanese-symbol
[xxix]Dry-field rice may have been introduced to Japan as early as the early Jōmon Period (14,000-300 BC), about 6,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of wet-field rice farming dates back to northern Kyūshū at the end of the Jōmon Period and the beginning of the Yayoi Period (300 BC-300 AD). Koreans forced to migrate due to upheaval during the Warring States Period (403-221 BC) in China, arrived in Japan around the same time and introduced rice to Japan. New evidence indicates that wet-field rice farming dates back even further to 1,000 BC, causing fresh speculation that rice farming was imported directly from China.
[xxx]The rice seasons in northern Japan last from May-June to September-October. In central Japan, it is from April-May to August-October. In southern Japan, the rice season is from April-May to August-September.
[xxxi]Lord Asano Naganoriis known as the person who triggered a series of incidents retold in a story known as Chūshingura (Forty-Seven Ronin), one of the favorite themes of kabuki, jōruri music, and Japanese books and films.The day he died, he drew his sword and tried to kill Lord Kira Yoshinaka (Yoshihisa) in the Corridor of the Pines at Edo Castlein what’s now present-day Tōkyō. He was wounded and failed to kill Kira. On the same day, the fifth Tokugawa shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, sentenced Lord Asano to commit seppuku, which he did after writing his jisei. Interestingly, it’s said that Lord Asano’s jisei was a poorly written jisei, possibly because he implied the impending end of his life, thereby he showed his immaturity and lack of character that led to being ordered to commit seppuku in the first place.
[xxxii]Huang, Cindy, Ed. (2013, April 12). For Hundreds of Years, Cherry Blossoms Are Matter of Life and Death. PBS News Hour. Retrieved from: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/for-more-than-1000-years-cherry-blossoms-move-world-to-emotion
[xxxiii]Downer, Lesley (2017, December 14). The Tale of the 47 Ronin by Lesley Downer. The History Girls. Retrieved from http://the-history-girls.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-tale-of-forty-seven-ronin-by-lesley.html
[xxxiv]Takano, Eiji(2015, November 29). Re: What are cherry blossoms a Japanese symbol?(Quora Blog comment). Retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-cherry-blossoms-a-Japanese-symbol
[xxxv]Kana 仮名 is a Japanese syllabic writing system having two forms, hiragana and katakana. Each kana character corresponds phonetically to one sound in the Japanese language, referred to as mōra. Kana by themselves have no meaning, which makes it different from kanji, which represent things and words, and they have meaning.
[xxxvi]Bullock, Ben. Punctuation: What is the difference between a mōra and a syllable? From Usenet newsgroup sci.lang.japan: http://www.sljfaq.org/afaq/afaq.html. Kana is a Japanese syllabic writing system having two forms, hiragana and katakana. Each kana corresponds to one sound (mōra) in the Japanese language. For example, a あア; e え エ; i い イ; o お オ; u う ウ.
[xl]Baines, Wesley (n.d.). The symbolism of the cherry blossom. Beliefnet. Retrieved from: http://www.beliefnet.com/inspiration/the-symbolism-of-the-cherry-blossom.aspx