At six years old, the boy, sitting with his mother underneath the flowering cherry in their garden, decided the blossoms were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The delicate tight buds had developed into pale pink flowers, which he wanted to draw and paint, but he couldn’t reproduce their beauty.
By the age of sixty he had tried for many years but still wasn’t satisfied with his efforts. He was a talented artist by then, making successful paintings and wood block prints of all the other subjects he saw around Japan, except of course the flowering cherry.
He had tried to paint the blossom he found in front of a waterfall, and a tea plantation and near the bridge over the Tsutaya river. Once again he failed, but got some lovely landscape views of the scenes behind the cherry tree instead, and had made a good living.
Those trees look good in front of mountains, he thought. He had a go at a woodblock print of Mount Fuji. Thirty six attempts later he still wasn’t satisfied, but made a real name for himself anyway depicting the fishermen, peasant farmers and bricklayers that plied their trade beneath the mountain.
Surely the coast at Kenagawa be a good setting for the cherry. Unfortunately, a huge wave came into view, and he ended up just drawing that. The wave went viral, so at least he became very famous.
The artist was a perfectionist, and went round telling everyone he wouldn’t produce his best work until he was 110, but then at 73 he admitted he had finally begun to grasp the way plants grow. When he saw a bullfinch on a beautiful drooping branch of cherry blossom, that was his chance. This time, instead of the stylised patches of pink he had produced previously, he was able to represent the delicate detail of the flowers, standing out against the background. The branch curved round, framing the scene, and leaving just enough room for him to put in the Japanese lettering of a haiku, just like the one that inspired this ZenGarden story.