The tiny town of Miharu in Fukushima is a typical farming community of 17,000 inhabitants. But hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the town in spring to get a glimpse of the Takizakura. The word translates to ‘waterfall cherry blossoms,’ and when it blooms, the Takizakura transforms into a flow of pink petals that are delicately stunning and unlike any other cherry blossoms in the country.
The 1,000-year-old Pendula Rosea was designated a National Monument back in 1923. Standing over 40 feet 12 meters) tall, the tree spreads out 65 feet (20 meters) in every direction.
The advent of spring leads to a flurry of activity around the Takizakura as workers make a pathway leading to the ancient cherry tree. The path is quite wide and can accommodate the crowd of tourists who visit the ancient tree in spring and stare in awe at the exquisite beauty of the flowers cascading to the ground.
The pandemic had put a temporary halt to the flow of tourists. But the Takizakura had bloomed in isolation before. It has witnessed many famines and wars, storms, and earthquakes in its long history. An environmental disaster, one of the worst ever, took place close by at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima after an earthquake.
Things were getting back to normal in the past few years till the pandemic struck. Sidafumi Hirata along with his team has propped up the branches of the tree. He looks at the redbuds that have formed and say that the bloom will start in a few days.
The Takizakura Is Inextricably Linked To The Life Of The Local Community
Hirata takes care of the cultural heritage of Miharu. He has been seeing the Takizakura all his life as he grew here. He regularly checks upon the health of the tree. The wooden posts used to prop up the tree protects it during heavy snowfall and prevents them from breaking.
He says the local community in Miharu participates in protecting the tree. Neighboring families participate in weeding, fertilizing the roots with dead leaves in a process that has been followed for centuries. Passersby place offering for the spirits at the foot of the Takizakura. It includes salt, rice, and bottles of sake, a fermented rice drink.
The earthquake that triggered the 2011 earthquake caused a meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear plant 30 miles (48 kilometers) away. The nuclear fallout affected towns nearby but Miharu was unaffected, and the tree remained unharmed. No visitors turned up that year. Hirata and the Takizakura waited for the tourists to turn up and admire its bloom but in vain.
Hirata worries about the tree whenever he is away from it. And when he returns to see it standing in the pink of health, he is relieved. And the cherry blossoms are there unfailingly every year, even if the tourists fail to turn up.
Masayuki Hashimoto is 72 and has a small shop nearby selling and sprouts of the Takizakura, and souvenirs, to tourists. He could not open his shop due to the pandemic. He says that things were not so bad after the 2011 disaster.
A family of tourists turned up, a couple, Kazue and Kenjiro Otama, and their two daughters. The older one was months old when the family visited the tree after the 2011 disaster. Kazue says that the tree reminds her of the strength of nature. She feels that it can endure anything.
Hirata says that the tree had lived long enough to have seen many tragedies happen in its lifetime. But there also have been good times, good events. He says that life comprises layers of good and bad, and we need to live with it.
Even as the COVID-19 took a heavy toll in the country, the Takizakura burst into a delicate pink flame, something it has been doing unfailingly for the past 1,000 years, resilient and eternal.