英语学习杂志 2014-09-26 09:18






By Ben Lim

李殊 选 祝平 选

It may surprise you to read this, but I do not actually miss living in Japan that much generally, except for my family and the food. My home territory there is the greater Tokyo area, and while Tokyo is a great metropolis, it’s also unbearably congested and you are living on top of other people all the time. To borrow a term used for another place in the world, generally speaking it’s a nice place to visit, but I’m not sure (given a choice) that I’d want to live there. But there are certain times of the year when I do wish I were there, and right now is one of them. It’s cherry blossom time.

Cherry blossom trees are so ubiquitous all throughout Japan, that they are used as an official measure of the changing of seasons. There is something called the sakura zensen or the cherry blossom front, which tracks the blossoming time of cherry trees throughout the country. (It’s so official that it even appears in elementary school geography books along with other weather maps.)

One thing that Japanese people repeat all the time is that Japan is unique because it has four distinct seasons. The implication is that no other place on earth does! This isn’t quite true of course, but I do think that the Japanese culture has a deep appreciation for the changes of the seasons. One of these appreciative rituals is o-hanami or hanami. Groups of people congregate on mats under the most picturesque clumps of cherry blossom trees with bento lunches and have a good party. A lot of sake is usually involved. Since certain places in Tokyo are so popular for o-hanami gatherings, it is traditionally the job of the lowliest grunt in the office to go out early in the morning to the place where his bosses want to party later on that evening with a mat and stake out a choice spot under the trees. He’d then have to sit there all day.

Families go out for o-hanami too, sans the sake usually, though there might be a small bottle or two (or beer) for Dad. Mom would wake up early to make lots and lots of onigiri, and the whole family sets off in their car or on the train to appreciate the blossoms.

Eating cherry blossoms and leaves

The trees that produce those beautiful pink flowers are different from the ones that produce cherries, but in Japan parts of the flowering tree are still eaten. The leaves are salted and wrapped around a mochi that is dyed a pale pink; this sweet is called sakuramochi. This is one of my favorite wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) because the subtle salty-sourness of the pickled cherry leaves counteracts the sweetness nicely. The flowers themselves are eaten too, salted and pickled in clear vinegar. Floating one or two of these preserved blossoms in a bowl of clear soup or tea is really nice, adding that little salty-sourness again.

Around here it’s still rather cold, but in a couple of weeks the apple trees in our village should be blooming. I wonder what the neighbors will think if we had an o-hanami party in the fields...

The cherry blossom front lost in translation

Speaking of the cherry blossom front (sakura zensen) brought back memories of an odd experience I had many years ago.

In the late 80’s to early 90’s there was a revival boom of tanka, a traditional form of Japanese poetry that predates the haiku form by centuries. The instigator for this boom was an author and poet called Machi Tawara, whose book of modern tanka called Sarada Kinenbi (Salad Anniversary), became a runaway bestseller.

One day, Ms. Tawara was engaged to speak at the Japan Club in New York, together with another author whose name I don’t remember anymore. My mother was a big fan of Sarada kinenbi, and so she dragged me there to hear this bestselling author who wrote such beautiful poems talk about her work. The audience there was almost all Japanese.

I don’t remember most of what Ms. Tawara talked about that day, except for one thing. She was describing how she had given a similar talk on Denmark, to a Danish audience. She said that she had described the sakura zensen, and how Japanese people tracked the arrival of spring with it as the front creeped up day by day from south to north. She said her Danish audience laughed at this, and said it sounded stupid, and that she realized that it was a very Japanese way of thinking that was not understandable by foreigners.

Now I ask you, if you are a non-Japanese person reading this, do you have a hard time understanding the sakura-zensen? Does it sound stupid to you? I’m guessing it doesn’t at all. Every culture around the world appreciates the changing of the seasons, and has different traditions that mark them. I highly doubt that Danish people are any different. And I really doubt that the Danish audience said it was stupid. There must have been a severe breakdown in communication there somewhere—either a bad interpreter, or just that Ms. Tawara totally got it wrong. But the thing is she chose to interpret the situation the way she did.

Anyway, the point of telling this story is that oddly enough, I think it was one of the defining moments in my life. It made me realize that one of the things I wanted to do was to give a real, living and informed (as much as possible) “translation” of Japanese culture to people who weren’t Japanese, and vice versa. It’s one of the many motivations behind this article. For Japanese person, living solely in Japan (or in any single place) is like being in a protected, comfortable cocoon to a great extent, even in this internet age. Living outside of it is like being dunked in freezing cold water. It gives you a shock, but also opens your eyes to both sides of the divide.



1. ohanami: 日文中的“赏花”,日本人春季的传统活动。

2. territory: 领土,领域;unbearably: 无法容忍地,不能忍受地;congested: 拥挤的。

3. ubiquitous: 无处不在的,普遍存在的。

4. sakura zensen: 日文的“樱花前线”。

5. implication: 含义,言外之意。

6. 成群的人们聚集在樱花开得最繁茂美丽的花丛下,坐在树下的毯子上,享受着午餐便当,一起度过这个美好的派对时光。congregate: 聚集;picturesque: 美丽的,风景如画的;clump: 丛;bento: 盒饭或饭盒。

7. sake: 日本米酒,清酒。

8. 由于东京的一些赏花地点太过抢手,按照传统做法,由公司级别最低的新人承担起一大早就去往老板指定的傍晚赏花地点占位的工作,他们带着一个毯子,并在选定的树下用毯子占好位。grunt: 这里指“新员工”;stake out: 清楚界定。

9. onigiri: 饭团。

10. mochi: 日本麻薯,日本人把糯米粉或其他淀粉类制成的有弹性和粘性的食品叫做麻薯;sakuramochi: 日文的“樱饼”。

11. wagashi: 和果子,是一部分日式点心的统称。型态有非常多种,一般有团子、麻薯、馒头、铜锣烧等等。主要的原料包括:米、面粉、红豆、砂糖、葛粉,并依照不同的口味添加不同的特殊食材;salty-sourness: 咸酸味;pickled: 盐渍的;counteract: 中和。

12. float: 使浮动,使漂浮;preserved: 腌制的,保存的。

13. revival: 复兴,再流行;tanka: 〈日〉短歌(三十一音节字的日本诗体);predate: (在日期上)早于,先于;haiku: 俳句,是日本的一种古典短诗,由“五-七-五”, 共十七字音组成,在中国以每日小诗的形式发展。

14. instigator: 发起者;runaway: 迅速的,失控的。

15. creep up: (植物)攀援,蔓生。

16. defining: 可以定义的。

17. vice versa: 反之亦然。

18. cocoon: 蚕茧。

19. dunk: 浸泡。

20. divide: 分水岭。


(来源:英语学习杂志 编辑:丹妮)




















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