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If I had to identify with one non-North American culture, it would be Japanese.

That's fairly random for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed English speaker, I realize that.

I didn't know much about Japan until a girl from Nagano lived with my family one summer during high school. I entered college, and the 9 AM Japanese classes I kept ending up in somehow developed into my major. It turns out that my school had one of the strongest East Asian Studies programs out there. My senseis routinely made me laugh...and cry. I came out of the program exhausted, but with a pretty dear grasp of the language.

And after graduate school, I decided it would be fun to move to Japan. I spent 1.5 years there - teaching English, making new friends, adopting a stray cat and exploring my new world...a world that soon became a part of my psyche.

By the end of my stay, I was dreaming in Japanese. I once heard that a hallmark of language fluency is the ability to dream in another language.

I no longer dream in Japanese, but to say that Japan has left an indelible mark on my life wouldn't be off base. I was joking with a friend recently that she keeps turning 20 on her birthday every year. For me, it's 23. Seemingly such a random number, but that was my age when I lived in Japan.

I still get choked up when I hear Japanese spoken on the streets of Vancouver, and invariably spend way too much money at the Japan pavilion in Epcot when we visit. A few of my dearest friends from Japan, including my Japanese "mom," made the trek west for my wedding, and I can't wait to bring my boys to share in my love for my second home.

I suppose that's why the sakura are so poignant to me. Springtime in Japan is filled with the fleeting cherry blossom, gorgeous flowers that blossom from south to north as the weather warms. My memories of Japanese spring are of hanami parties of all shapes and sizes - picnics and parties under the cherry blossoms that, in some cases, lasted until the late evenings. Perhaps due to their impermanence, the sakura are a magnificent and fleeting yearly occurrence across Japan.

Vancouver is blessed with its own array of cherry blossoms of all shapes and colours. With the first sign of gorgeous blossoms, the boys and I were out for a playdate and photo session. The weather wasn't great - it was pretty cold and dreary, with a stiff wind that quickly rattled us to the core - and yet there we were. With the fleeting nature of sakura, one good windstorm would have knocked our beloved blossoms to the ground.

We ended up having a wonderful outing despite the cold. It wasn't a picnic, but a special play date in the cherry blossoms. And to me, there's little as poignant as seeing my boys play under the blossoms that have such special meaning, and carry with them special memories, in my own


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