I spent my first two years as an ALT in a small town of about 7000 people at the southwest end of the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture. After much soul-searching, I’d decided to move on at the end of my second year. I’d said my goodbyes, watched the students at both my elementary and junior high schools graduate, and had already begun the painstaking process of dismantling my apartment in preparation for the move. I didn’t think I’d ever see any of my students again.
Walking up the riverside path beneath a roof of intertwined cherry trees, the pinky blossoms were in full bloom as I headed home, having finally returned my workhorse mountain bike to my friends at the board of education. It was late enough in the season that the silky petals were beginning to flutter through the air with each gust of wind. I walked past the supermarket, the long-closed fish market (now a drug store), and my favorite confectionary shop, and had nearly reached the bridge leading across to my apartment when I encountered two of my grade 5 students running down the path beneath the falling blossoms.
'Mizuki! Yoko!' I called. 'Hi! What are you doing?'
'We’re catching cherry blossoms!' replied Yoko, the more talkative of the two.
'Catching cherry blossoms?'
'Yeah. If you catch three before they hit the ground, you’ll find happiness!'
'Really?' I asked. 'Can I try?'
I spent the next hour running up and down the path with my students. We stopped occasionally to share results and compare technique: How many did you have? Was it better to put your hands out to the side, or in front of you? And if the petals kept getting in your eyes and nose, wouldn’t it be best to put your hands on your forehead?
We tensed with excitement whenever a big gust of wind came, knowing that it would bring a bounty of falling blossoms. I gradually came to the conclusion that running just pushed the petals away, so I tried standing still with my hands out.
In the end, I caught three petals while I wasn’t even trying, then lost them while playing with my students. I took this to mean I would find happiness inadvertently, then lose it due to carelessness.
Perhaps I already had.
Published May 2009. Photo © 2004 Michael Kanert. Students' names changed for privacy.