Hanami 2022: My Uncle’s Wish
2022年度のお花見: 叔父の願い


The first signs of spring offer promise of new life and warmer, lighter days. After another uncertain winter season shadowed by COVID-19, many have looked forward to springtime flowers and the first warmth of the year.


I have written on my experience of hanami, the age-old Japanese tradition of spring flower viewing, a couple of times in the past, such as in articles “OHANAMI 2018: KIMONO EXPERIENCE & CHIDORIGAFUCHI BOAT” and “THE ARRIVAL OF HANAMI SEASON”. You really cannot miss the hanami experience in Japan – even after several years, I am still amazed by how it becomes the main topic of conversation during this festive period and everyone seems to take it so seriously. The local news channels even make detailed reports on “Cherry Blossom Forecasts” that attract a lot of attention in lieu of the standard weather forecasts! An example is weather forecaster WEATHERMAP Co., Ltd., which gathers data from over 2 million reports and forecasts from the past 2 decades to form “the most accurate predictions possible.”

日本古来の春の風習である花見の体験談は、過去に何度か記事「お花見2018:着物体験と千鳥ヶ淵のボート」及び「お花見シーズンの到来」などでご紹介してきました。日本でのお花見は本当に外せません。数年経った今でも、この時期にお花見が話題の中心になり、みんなが真剣に取り組んでいることに驚かされます。地元のニュースチャンネルでは、天気予報の代わりに「桜の開花予想」を詳しく報道し、注目を集めているほどです。代表的な例は、過去20年間の200万件以上の報告・予報データを収集し、”最も正確な予報 “を作成している気象予報士事務所株式会社ウェザーマップです。

Every Hanami season, the local news channels even make detailed “Cherry Blossom Forecasts”!

Table of Contents

In Memory of a Beloved Uncle…

As a metaphor for life itself, the hanami blossoms represent radiant beauty, yet also poignantly highlights the short lived, transient nature of life. This year’s hanami was a very different experience for me as the blooming season coincided with the passing of a beloved uncle…


Uncle James, my mother’s eldest brother, passed away from colon cancer this Spring. Unfortunately, we only found out about his condition when the cancer had already progressed to Stage 4. Although the doctor had initially told him he only had another 2 months to live upon diagnosis, he fought for many more months after that.


Singapore has a tropical climate and it is essentially summer and hot all year on the island-state. Uncle James had always wanted to see hanami in Japan, and hoped that he could visit once he was well enough to travel. Unfortunately, it was not possible for him to visit.  


My uncle and aunt met almost 50 years ago. They were each other’s’ first loves and high school sweethearts, and were dedicated to each other until the very end.


Although a man of modest means, Uncle James was always kind and generous to everyone he met. His heart was always full and ready to give. My aunt and uncle do not have kids, but took care of me and my brother like their own. Whenever we visited their house, there was always generous portions of food for us to take home.


Chinese family meal with my grandparents and uncle and aunt when I was a toddler.
{Christmas Meal in 2017}
One of the last family meals before my uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Five lessons I learned from my uncle’s last moments

In this article, I wish to share five lessons I learned from my uncle’s last moments. My purpose is to have this article serve as a reminder for myself of these reflections, and hopefully it may be helpful for others. No doubt many of us experienced some form of loss during these two years of the pandemic.


Lesson #1
Life is a continuous paradox – take the time to laugh, to love unconditionally, and focus on the good people and good things in your life. “Bad” things and injustices inevitably happen – we further hurt ourselves by thinking, “it is being done to me.” How we respond to and overcome “bad” experiences – whether through hatred and resentment, or compassion and understanding – makes all the difference in helping you lead a fulfilling life.

人生はパラドックスの連続 ― 笑う時間を持ち、無条件に愛し、良い人、良いことに目を向けましょう。「悪い」ことや不正は必然的に起こる ― 「それは私にだけされている 」と考えることによって、私たちはさらに自分自身を傷つけるだけです。憎しみや憤り、あるいは思いやりと理解によって、「悪い」経験にどう対応し、克服するかによって、充実した人生を送るための大きな違いが生まれます。
Lesson #2
Life can take unexpected turns. Don’t wait or put off anything important to you. If you love to travel, don’t wait until “the right time” as it may never come. Travel, experience, and learn as much as you can while your body and mind are still able.

Lesson #3
You cannot take money or possessions with you. Don’t sacrifice your health or time with loved ones in pursuit of insatiable material things. Invest in positive memories and experiences so our final thought will be free from transgressions or regrets.

Lesson #4
Nobody likes to talk about death and mortality, but the reality is that the moment we are born, the only constant is that we will encounter death. If you can acknowledge the present moment and our limited time on this world, it will help you live your best life today (and not stress about the small things so much). In the grand scheme of things, perspective is key.

In the grand scheme of things, perspective is key.
Lesson #5
Grieving is a very personal journey which has no set timeframe and may feel like it has no end. If someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, while you may be unsure what to say or worried that you will upset them, a simple message can go a long way to comfort them and show support. Grief can be acknowledged and even valued as a symbol of having had someone or something wonderful in your life.


Even when he was sick, Uncle James always put care and empathy for others above his own. Even after falling from the great tree of this life, he was ever prepared for his death by having calmly understood and accepted the ancient wisdom that everything we see and experience is impermanent. Although many are grieved by the absence of him, his wish was always to remember that we should celebrate the spark and vitality of his life, while also taking a moment to appreciate the meaning and depth of our own.


My uncle chose to have his ashes scattered in the Garden of Peace to return to the earth and complete his journey.

In 2021, Singapore opened the Garden of Peace, the country’s first inland ash-scattering garden. My uncle chose to have his ashes scattered in this serene garden to return to the earth and complete his journey. By choosing to scatter his ashes in a garden, the image of beauty and happiness he has shared with those around him remains long after the physical body passes.


It is said that cherry blossoms are also associated with “funerals” because of their fleetingness along with the image of exuberant “festivities” such as hanami. Perhaps they are nature’s annual reminder that all that we enjoy in one instant can always fall away in the next, and we should take time to cherish what we have.


Life doesn’t return to normal after the death of a family member or friend, and like the blossoms that burst into bloom every Spring and vanish just as suddenly, the experience causes us to redefine life in a new and profound way.


Inspired by Uncle James’ wish to see Japan’s spring flowers –
My Latest Project: Hanami VR360 Virtual Tours

ジェームス叔父さんの「日本の春の花を見たい」という願いから ―

Filming during the Ume Matsuri (Plum Flower Festival) in Fuchu City, Tokyo.

Nowadays, Hanami is most often associated with Sakura cherry blossoms, but did you know that the “original” hanami was with plum blossoms? In early Spring about a month before the cherry blossoms bloom, new life is stirs and buds appear on ume, also known as plum blossom trees or Japanese apricots.


Did You Know? ご存じでしょうか?

Plum trees were introduced into Japan from China during the Nara period (710–794 AD), and were the original hanami (flower viewing) blossoms. The plum holds a special place in Japanese culture, symbolizing the transition from winter to spring and the resilience of nature.

For those unfamiliar, plum flowers look similar to cherry blossoms, but different species bloom in white and bright shades of pink with a sweet and gentle scent distinct from the more renown sakura. There are several species of plum trees, with “Yaekannkou” producing deep pink, robust petals, and “Touji” with pale pink and white flowers.




Can you tell the blossoms apart? Besides the blooming period (where plum blossoms bloom earlier), ume have rounded petals, whereas Sakura have long, split-end petals. 

One of the latest projects the SeiRogai team have been working on are a series of VR360 virtual tours of Japan. We believe that in our post-corona world, there is great demand for exclusive VR experiences of unique places in Japan. One of the virtual tours we filmed recently was in collaboration with Fuchu City and the Fuchu Kyodonomori Municipal Museum, featuring a beautiful experience of over 1,100 plum trees! 


Although my uncle’s wish to experience hanami in person was not granted during his lifetime, I feel grateful knowing that in the future, we can utilize VR360 technology to provide such experiences to others similarly unable to travel. The immersive virtual tour contents that we have been filming now would enable viewers to visit, interact with, and learn about different places right from their very home. Age, health, disability, cost, time, or language should no longer be barriers or constraints to experience travelling around Japan and the world.


We filmed a VR360 virtual tour of the annual plum flower festival and the historical buildings on the museum grounds. We aim not only to share a spectacular experience of the flowers and promote the attractions of Fuchu City, a Western suburb of Tokyo, but also provide a content platform aligned with ESG and SDG initiatives.


Behind-the-scenes photos of the VR360 filming using a specialized camera (TITAN 360) at a historical building.
府中市の歴史的建造物での専用カメラ(TITAN 360)を使ったVR360撮影の舞台裏写真。

More information about our collaboration with Fuchu City:


Innovating in VR360 Film

Due to halted travel during the pandemic, the effects of over-tourism became apparent and highlighted the need for sustainable travel to preserve treasured tourist destinations. With the reemergence of travel after years of COVID-19 restrictions, people are valuing connecting to local cultures, nature, and communities more than ever.


Through educational movie-style virtual tour experiences, not only can we enable equitable access to travel (including for the elderly and disabled) while meeting the needs for tourists, but we can also reduce the carbon footprint and prevent overtourism, all the while increasing the brand value and recognition of rural areas of Japan with their distinct local cultures and histories.


What are your thoughts on the hanami tradition in Japan or the emergent trend in VR360 virtual tour contents and the societal impact of digital transformation in tourism?

I would love to hear from you!



I wish to express a big thank you to the Singapore Cancer Society, who provided critical assistance to Mr. James Kee in his time of need, and Chef Joseph Yeo (Instagram: @josephyeois), who kindly accommodated my uncle’s food restrictions to prepare a beautiful meal for him and his wife, a memory that they will cherish forever.

Cancer does not discriminate. It impacts people from all walks of life. When the road gets bumpy, it helps to have companions on the journey. SCS journeys with cancer patients at every stage of the cancer journey. The Society provides a range of assistance schemes to alleviate the financial burden of treatment costs for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents from low and middle income families.

Find out more about SCS assistance schemes here.


About Rachel

Rachel Leng is COO and Co-Founder of SeiRogai, Inc., a Tokyo-based business consultancy & media production company. Previously, she was Leader of Business Development on the Investment Management team at a Japanese private equity fund, as well as Policy Analyst at a top think tank in Seoul, South Korea.

As an East Asia specialist and former Miss Singapore titleholder, Rachel is passionate about the potential of media to educate and raise awareness about history, culture, art, business, and societal issues to enhance mutual understanding.

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