Last Saturday, I stood by the window and watched the snow swirling over the evergreens and grove of bamboo trees. It was a gazing meditation as I visually took in the scene, transfixed for twenty? thirty? more minutes? I’m not sure. A slight wind rustled the leaves, causing settled snow to move on to other leaves, or float to a final rest upon the earth.
A memory arose, taking me back to Japan. Maybe it was the bamboo trees. Or perhaps it was the snowflakes, so like the small, light pink petals of cherry blossoms that shake loose each spring throughout Japan and coat the ground beneath them in scattered beauty. “Beautiful litter,” my husband calls it. I’ve learned that cherry blossoms represent the brilliant but brief lives of Samurai — falling cherry blossoms are a common symbol of impermanence in Japanese poetry.
The image before me brought to mind one of my favorite works of literature, The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki. The novel’s title in Japanese, Sasameyuki, means lightly falling snow. If you have not read it, the story is about the declining glory of a great Osaka merchant family on the eve of World War II. Four sisters, of old money and strict traditions, gather in Kyoto every year to view the cherry blossoms. The novel begins as the elder sisters discuss vetting suitable husbands for their younger sisters and unfolds into a story of the extinction of an exalted family.
Isn’t it remarkable how observation of one thing brings to mind something else? How one image can transform into another, prompting memories, hopes, even yearnings?
Tanizaki’s book rests on my nightstand again.