Toronto

High Park cherry blossoms have special significance

The cherry blossoms in full bloom this week at Toronto's High Park have a special meaning for Japanese Canadians like Kazuko Moghul.

The cherry blossoms in full bloom this week at Toronto’s High Park have a special meaning for Kazuko Moghul.

A visit to see the blossoms, long viewed in Japanese culture as symbolic of rebirth and renewal, will help her as she prepares to return to her home prefecture, where people are still struggling from the aftermath of a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami  in March.

"My hometown was destroyed after 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami destroyed everything," Moghul told CBC’s Kimberly Gale.  "So I'm not sure what I am going to feel standing at my hometown."

Moghul is originally from Ishinomaki City in Miyagi prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the twin disasters in March.

Moghul lost siblings, neighbours and friends, so many she says she stopped counting. She has a photo taken last year at her annual school reunion. Seven of the people in the picture died in the tsunami.

In High Park, Moghul is using the cherry blossoms as a way to mentally prepare for her journey ahead.

"I have to accept the reality, then I have to step forward. I really need to go to visit my hometown," she said.

The Japanese view the cherry blossoms as a metaphor for life, beautiful, but fleeting. They're also a sign of rebirth and strength. So in the wake of the disaster in Japan, this year's blossoms are especially poignant.

Trees were a gift from Japan

The Toronto cherry blossoms also have an interesting history.

In 1959, the Japanese ambassador to Canada, Toru-Hagiwara, presented the Japanese Sakura trees to the citizens of Toronto on behalf of the citizens of Tokyo. The trees were planted in appreciation of Toronto helping to re-locate Japanese-Canadians following World War Two.

In the 1940s Sid Ikeda, 76, lived in a Japanese internment camp in B.C. when he was a child. He moved to Ontario in 1947.

"It was quite a tribute for the Japanese government to donate 2,000 trees, it's all to do with the friendship and respect to the city of Toronto to look after the Japanese Canadian citizens here."

For Japanese Canadians the cherry blossoms serve as a reminder of past and current struggles.

"Sakura is the first flower to bloom in the spring time," said Moghul. "That means new life starting and the season of spring. It means hope to the people in Japan."