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Cherry Blossoms on a Pond

Tokyo, Japan (April 1994)

Tokyo, Japan (April 1994)

There is a pond that each spring turns into a flowered mirror. Cherry blossoms scatter petal by petal, wafting gently onto the water's surface like delicately scented silk scarves. To the koi carp in the pond, the fluttering petals must look like clouds billowing across the sky. Such musings made me think the pink petals on the water's surface also resemble scaly pink clouds at sunset. Blown by the breeze, the cluster of cherry petals shift and change shape like a school of fish, an ever-moving kaleidoscope. The pond, which is in a corner of the grounds of the Soka Gakkai headquarters, was lit up by the brightness of a beautiful spring day.

The carp and the entire spring scene were like finely decorated brocade. Cherry blossoms adorned the water's surface like dotted patterns of inlaid mother-of-pearl. Among the ripples danced reflections of weeping cherry branches; the crystal blue skies seemed to reflect upward from the pond's eternal depths. The small pond was not small at all. Encompassing heaven and earth, it lacked nothing. It was a fully expansive universe unto itself.

Looking up, spring clouds, like flowers from the heavens, cascaded across the sky in perpetual motion. Don't people live in their own small ponds?

Many things past are
Brought back to my memory
By cherries in bloom.

This haiku by the famous poet Basho may well express the sentiment of most Japanese. We live out our years recording another ring of growth with each season of cherry blossoms.

When I was a boy, our house in the Kojiya District of Tokyo's Ota Ward had a big yard where a large cherry tree grew. Each spring, both ground and sky were awash with flowers, our house an abode of flourishing blossoms. After we sold our house, the cherry tree was cut down. During the war, the lot became a munitions factory. Under daily bombing, Tokyo was a burned-out ruin.

One day I went for a walk in a section of Kamata District that had escaped destruction. It was in the spring of 1945, the last year of the war, but the war was still under way.

As I strolled along, lost in thought, something bright appeared before my eyes.

A few cherry trees had been spared and were in full, resplendent bloom. As though bathed in light, the brilliant-hued scene stood out in sharp contrast to the ashen landscape of a ruined city. Life flourished on each blossoming branch, each treetop. In that moment those cherry trees stood for the overflowing richness of life.

At the same time, however, the nationalist military rulers of Japan were exploiting the cherry tree as a symbol of death. With the motto "Valorously [give your lives] like scattering blossoms," they sent several million blossoming youth to their deaths. My friends and my brothers scattered themselves in this way across distant southern seas.

Ah, cherry blossoms--
Some scatter, while some remain
To fall in the end

At 17, I remained, without scattering in the winds of war. Year after year, cherry blossoms of life bloom and fall. People often reflect upon their own lives, sensing a deep kinship with the life rhythms of the cherry tree.

My mentor Josei Toda loved cherry blossoms. Referring to this or that he would say, "When the cherries are in bloom," and "Let's walk the path of cherry blossoms." On occasion, we would walk together from Ichigaya to observe the cherry trees in full bloom. Standing on the bank of a moat, my teacher would say, "These cherry trees have endured the bitter cold of winter to bloom yet again!" Their image mirrored the blossoms of happiness that had accumulated in Mr. Toda's heart, having endured the bitter winter of imprisonment during the war.

"Winter will turn into spring without fail!" he would declare. He also said, "I want to die when the cherries are in bloom." That wish came to pass. Having filled the hearts of many people with the fragrant spring of happiness, gallantly, with serene dignity, he scattered his life to the wind with the cherry blossoms. And like the falling blossoms, my mentor's life ended with dignity and splendor.

* * * * *

The koi leapt and splashed in the pond, and the raft of flower petals changed its form. Newly fallen blossoms danced in the breeze. Each petal seemed to glow with new life, descending joyfully toward the "skies" of the pond. Though fallen, they seemed to bloom again on the water's surface. Now, at the height of their lives, they offered themselves as a gift to the earth. Their scattering was not an end but an outpouring of life.

I took this picture on April 7, 1994. That evening, I greeted a delegation of the Chinese People's International Friendship Association. They had come to open an exhibit of modern masterpieces of painting and calligraphy by renowned Chinese artists. The exhibition was being held to commemorate the flowering of friendly relations between our two countries. This was art of the "Hundred Flowers Movement," fragrant with the spirit of peace. Friendship Association Vice President Wang Xiaoxian spoke of the bonds of friendship I shared with Premier Zhou Enlai and his wife and our mutual affinity for the season of cherry blossoms.

Premier Zhou had recalled to me that 50 years earlier following his studies here, he had left Japan when the cherries were in bloom. I then requested that he "please come again when the cherries are blossoming." Later, fulfilling Premier Zhou's wish, his wife visited Japan in the season of cherry blossoms. "When the cherries are in bloom"--these were Premier Zhou's last words to me.

Just as layer after layer of petals fill a flower basket, the blossoms of memories I have created over the years adorn my life. I pray that it will be the same for all of my friends.

The cherry blossom, which rules supreme among flowers, symbolizes the spirit of a champion of life, as it continues to live fully to the last moment.

[Adapted from an essay in Our Beautiful Earth: Photos and Essays of My Travels, by Daisaku Ikeda, April 2, 2000, Seikyo Press, Tokyo, Japan.]