In Cincinnati with warm weather and under spectacular blue skies, the cherry blossoms graced our parks and hillsides this past weekend. The Japan America Society of Greater Cincinnati held an Ohanami, Cherry Blossom Festival, in the grove of cherry trees in Ault Park. We’ve never been in Japan for April, but our home stay students have sent us many photos of their Ohanami parties. Here it looked just the same - families gathered under the trees with their picnic baskets on gaily colored blankets. Children played as parents visited one group of friends after another. It was a lovely afternoon.
This post connects again to the Masterpieces of Japanese Art exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Two artworks were donated by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto. Ms. Sugimoto wrote A Daughter of the Samurai and my husband found a 1934 edition of the autobiography for me. It’s a fascinating book, as Etsu was born in 1874 and lived in Echigo, a province far from the Western influences flooding Japan at that time. Reading about her childhood, I’m gathering more research for my Tokaidō stories.
Through an arranged marriage, Etsu arrived here in Cincinnati in 1898. Her new husband managed a store that sold Japanese goods. My mother was quite proud that the Sugimotos had lived in our neighborhood, College Hill, until Mr. Sugimoto died and Etsu went back to Japan with their two daughters. She eventually returned to America so that her daughters could complete their education here. Etsu taught Japanese literature and history at Columbia University while also writing novels and newspaper stories. She died in 1950.
The cover of my copy of A Daughter of the Samurai is a delicate watercolor of an old cherry blossom tradition inspired by Etsu’s introduction.
“Our cherry blossoms never wither. They fall while still fresh and fragrant. Because of this, centuries ago the cherry blossom was chosen as the symbol of samurai spirit – willing to die while young and vigorous, rather than to live and fade. The uniforms of both Army and Navy have a conventional cherry blossom on the badge.
In the spring-time, a favorite game of Japanese girls is to gather the fragrant petals and weave them into chains; and the little girl on the cover, in trying to make a frail, floral chain with the fallen petals, is emblematic of little Etsu-bo who gathered fragments of samurai spirit and wove them into a tale for the readers of today.
It was a daring thing for her to do, but in these later years, the petals of samurai memories are falling fast and the twilight is gathering. It ached me that they should be lost forever in the darkness of the past.”
Thank you, Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, for shining your light on the samurai spirit while helping us understand the life of a samurai girl who became a modern woman.