A new series by Tokyo-based Sybilla Patrizia looks at how people celebrate and document the fleeting sakura season in Tokyo
In Japan, the onset of spring is welcomed with the longstanding tradition of hanami, a celebration of the season’s new flowers – notably, the cherry blossom (the hanami season is also known as a “cherry blossom festival”). The fleeting hanami period – cherry blossom trees, or sakura, only bloom for a week or two – is a centuries-old tradition dating back to the 700s, and today involves parties and picnics being held beneath the sakura blossoms.
And with the events surrounding hanami season comes the requisite documentation: as people descend on Japan’s cherry blossom-filled parks with cameras in hand – sometimes travelling from across the globe – Instagram feeds are also flooded with the saccharine sakura pink. For Austrian, Tokyo-based photographer Sybilla Patrizia, this phenomenon proves fascinating year on year; State of Glory is a new book of photographs by Patrizia of people posing among the sakura in some of Tokyo’s most visited blossom hotspots, like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
Patrizia observed the frenzied hanami season, and noted “the excitement that was filling the air and putting the whole country in some sort of state of intoxication”. Her playful images capture a variety of people as they get their own blossom shots: some taking selfies, nestled in among the branches, and other posing proudly (or even hoisting a pet into the frame).
“It’s pretty crazy. In some popular cherry blossom viewing areas the police put up barriers and try to make people walk only in one direction so that it doesn’t get too chaotic,” the photographer, who has lived in Tokyo for two and a half years, explains. “Generally, you will find groups of friends and co-workers drinking, people setting up cameras for elaborate selfie shoots, brides and grooms travelling from outside of Japan just to do their wedding shoots around the blossoms, and lots of old Japanese men with professional photography equipment, crouching and bending all over the place to get the best close-up shots of the flowers.”
“I was fascinated by how one short event can become such a powerful trigger of human behaviour and reveal so much about the modern-day way of ‘experiencing’,” Patrizia continues. “No matter where you go in Japan, where there is a blooming cherry tree, there will be people photographing it. I wonder if people ever look at their photos again, or if they just enjoy the process of photographing.”
State of Glory by Sybilla Patrizia, with an essay by Karoly Tendl, is out now.