371 - Charting the Cherry Blossom Front
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
“The man of breeding never appears to abandon himself completely to his pleasures; even his manner of enjoyment is detached. It is the rustic boors who take all their pleasures grossly. They squirm their way through the crowd to get under the trees; they stare at the blossoms with eyes for nothing else; they drink sake and compose linked verse; and finally they heartlessly break off great branches and cart them away. When they see a spring they dip their hands and feet to cool them; if it is snow, they jump down to leave their footprints. No matter what the sight, they are never content merely with looking at it.”
This lament by the Japanese author Yoshida Kenkō (ca. 1285 – ca. 1350) in his classic, Tsurezuregusa (‘Essays in Idleness’), mentions the typically Japanese tradition of hanami (cherry blossom viewing). The blooming of cherry trees (which in Japanese are called sakura) is anticipated by the Japanese with such an eagerness that it prompts the national weather bureau to forecast and chart the progress of the sakurazensen (‘cherry blossom front’) across the Japanese archipelago, south to north.
This is such a map, showing this year’s sakurazensen over the last and coming few weeks, colour-coded to reflect the transition of greens to pinks that accompanies the blossoming of the hanami.
On 20 March, the cherries blossomed over most of the southern island of Kyushu (except its southern part), the western half of Shikoku and the teensiest bit of southern Honshu, the Japanese main island. By the 25th of March, the sakurazensen reached the southern third of Honshu, taking in many of the larger cities of Japan. By the end of March – which is just around now – the cherry blossom front has moved up north to include Tokyo. All during April, the sakurazensen will creep north on Honshu, jumping across to the northern island of Hokkaido by the end of April. By the 10th of May, the cherry trees will finally blossom across most of Japan’s northern island – by which time the hanami season in the south will be long gone, the blooms lasting only two weeks at most…
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