Hello Japan – April: A celebration of spring and sakura

19 April, 2010

How could I not participate in April’s Hello Japan mini-challenge hosted by In Spring It Is The Dawn when it features my name?

Hello, my name is Sakura and my Japanese grandfather named me after Japan’s most well-known and beloved flower. And every spring, as we drove through the city, he would say to me that everyone was calling my name.

Of course, growing up outside Japan meant that most of the time I was called Sa-koo-ra or Sa-kyoo-ra. Or Saki. Or Sak. Or Saaak as my nephews now call me. So only my mum and my Japanese friends say my name right. And Sri Lankans say my name slightly differently to the Japanese way, but not as distorted as the English way. So I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me if people mispronounce my name. In fact I’m more used to people calling me Sakoora than the Japanese way. As it is, my surname is even more difficult to pronounce. When I introduce myself to a Japanese person, I get either of these two reactions: a great big smile as they are tickled pink to see someone who doesn’t look Japanese with a really Japanese name or an embarrassed silence because they think it is an alias because I want to be Japanese. Both make me smile.

One of the things that really made me happy when I was a student was that there were two beautiful cherry blossom trees in the front quad of my university. I didn’t notice them until my first spring there when all of a sudden they spectacularly burst into bloom, their whitish pink flowers like cotton candy, petals swirling in the London wind. It made me feel less home-sick. So if you are ever near Gower Street in London on a lovely spring day, why not stop by UCL and have a peek?

(© UCL)

And to finish off, I decided to celebrate spring by treating myself to some of this from Minamoto Kitchoan, a famous Japanese confectioners with stores worldwide:

Sakura-mochi is made of delicately flavoured sticky rice, lightly pounded so that it still retains some of the grainy texture, filled with azuki paste. The slightly salty flavour of the mochi from the preserved sakura flowers (the pink thing on top) contrasts nicely with the sweet red bean paste. And it’s wrapped in a leaf from the sakura tree which is also edible. It’s one of my favourite Japanese traditional sweets (wagashi) and to me, it heralds the arrival of spring.

Minamoto Kitchoan 44 Piccadilly, London W1J 0DS

16 Responses to “Hello Japan – April: A celebration of spring and sakura”

  1. Please can you let us know how to pronounce your beautiful name properly? I know it will probably be really hard for me to get it right, but I’d like to try 🙂

    I love all the cherry blossom too – I went to Kew Gardens last week and it was so beautiful. Spring is a wonderful time!

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Thanks Jackie! The Japanese ‘r’ sounds like something between an English ‘r’ and an ‘l’, so it’s a little complicated. And the emphasis is on the ‘sa’ rather than the ‘ku’ (which isn’t elongated). So it should sound as it is spelled sa-ku-ra. But seriously, as long as people keep saying my name, I’m happy!

      I haven’t been to Kew Gardens in years. I think I went when a stinky plant bloomed for the first time in a 100 years. I remember it was a gorgeous place!

  2. Fëanor Says:

    Cherry blossoms a-bloom is always good fun. Hope you’re smiling – we’ve got good weather!

  3. Mystica Says:

    I can feel the nostalgia coming through your post. And such a lot of good memories. I’ve never seen cherry blossoms in bloom (other than in photographs) but they look gorgeous.

  4. Nymeth Says:

    I was going to ask the same as Jackie! But even after your explanation I can’t imagine the correct sound, probably because I’ve never heard it before.

    I love the photo of the cherry blossoms!

  5. Melody Says:

    Love the pic of the cherry blossoms! And that Sakura-mochi looks delicious! 🙂

  6. chasing bawa Says:

    Mystica: It’s one plant I don’t think I’ve seen in SL. But when you see a whole row of them in bloom, it’s out of this world.

    Nymeth: It’s not such a big deal, just strange, and something I’ve wondered about all my life:) Most of my friends just shorten my name because they say it’s too long (but is it?)

    Melody: It was truly yummy!

  7. Eva Says:

    I’ve now been repeating SA-ku-ra out loud in my living room, varying the r-l sound. hehe

    I really enjoyed your post: it was so interesting! And the pictures were all lovely.

  8. Iris Says:

    I love your grandfather’s remark that in spring every one was saying your name.

    The cherry blossoms do look wonderful, I’ve never seen them in real life, but every picture I saw looks promising and I hope to see it someday.

    I’m also a bit curious to how your name sounds if it is pronounced properly, I’m finding it hard to picture after your explanation to Jackie!

  9. chasing bawa Says:

    Eva: Ha ha, that’s so sweet!

    Iris: I think I’ve confused everyone with my explanation! Just pronounce it without elongating the vowels. And the ‘r’ needs to sound like a cross between an ‘r’ and an ‘l’. I guess it’s difficult to imagine unless you’ve heard a Japanese person say it.

  10. Michelle Says:

    I found it super amusing when you mentioned about how people pronounced your name. And reading the comments you’ve gotten, well, I just had to hunt around to see if there was a website that had audio pronunciation of sakura. Try this one. I think it’s pretty accurate. =)

  11. gnoegnoe Says:

    That is so cool! For a minute I thought you were kidding us and started to tell a story about someone else… Such a lovely name to have and a beautiful history to go with it. These must be fond memories of your grandfather!

    I’m afraid Minamoto Kitchoan is not as worldwide as it would like to be… (or as I would like it to be LOL). I’d die to try that sakura mochi!

  12. tanabata Says:

    I love that your grandfather named you sakura! I can imagine you get all kind of pronunciations and reactions to your name, but regardless it’s very pretty. I still can’t do the Japanese l/r sound properly. Just like my students can’t say the English l and r properly. LOL.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Yeah, all my Japanese friends have a real difficulty pronouncing ‘squirrel’! On the other hand, I seem to have a problem pronouncing the French ‘r’ in the word ‘rue’.

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