Times pass and seasons change. As the once-naked trees escape the winter, the blossoming trees reveal their true beauty. The petite, delicate buds blooming into soft cherry blossoms and the rays of sunshine melting frozen streams tell us that spring has officially arrived. The majority of the people I know are pleased with this transition—everyone except my grandpa. The arrival of spring, to his mind, triggers memories of tyranny and undesired control. Cherry blossoms—the ubiquitous symbol for renewal of life—are degraded to attributes of annexation and danger. When I asked him why the arrival of spring is so dreadful, he responded with three words: the Korean-Japanese War.
The Japanese militia invaded Korea when my grandpa was just turning sixteen. According to him, the Japanese came to wipe out Korean culture, language, and history, and they planted cherry blossom trees to display their superiority: that is why we see so many cherry blossoms flowering in front of symbolic locations that represent the power Korea holds. Take, for instance, the Changdeokgung Palace, where the King used to live, and the National Assembly Building in Yeouido—South Korea’s Congress. These locations represent the foundation upon which Korea was built. By placing Japanese trees, it was a way to assert Japanese dominance and to attempt to overrule the Koreans by bringing in objects they deemed representative of their culture.
But, ignorant of such complicated history behind the cherry blossoms planted in Korea, many foreigners and millennials are blinded by such beauty. By no means should Koreans stay away from embracing these blossoms. Yet, it is imperative for the next generation to understand the complicated history behind the origins of these trees.
Thankfully though, we see many cherry blossom festivals that strive to commemorate these significant events. Look at the Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival—an annual event that takes place when these flowers are in full bloom. With speakers coming to initiate more talk about such trees, not only are they helping spread awareness, but they are also helping preserve the history from the Japanese colonial era. Perhaps, by encouraging more speakers to use their platform to spread awareness about such history, more people can embrace these cherry blossoms with a deeper level of respect. If not, it will only be a matter of time before such history is lost.
This article originally appeared in Tiger Times Online.