They climbed the embankment of Osawa Pond for a brief look at the cherries there, and went on past the temple gates – the Temple of the Great Awakening, the Temple of Clean Coolness, the Temple of the Heavenly Dragon – to arrive at the Bridge of the Passing Moon, beyond which, rising from the river, was Storm Hill with its cherry blossom. At Storm Hill there were always throngs of Korean women in the plain yet richly dyed clothes of their peninsula, bringing a touch of the exotic and cosmopolitan to spring in the old capital. This year too, under the cherry trees along the river, they were gathered in twos and threes and fives, some of them stirred by the cherry-blossom saké to a rather unladylike ebullience.
The year before, the Makiokas had had lunch at the Pavilion of the All-Merciful, and the year before that at one of the tea houses by the bridge. This year they chose the precincts of the Temple of the All-Conquering Law – that temple to which, in April each year, the twelve-year-olds of Kyoto are brought to pray for a happy adolescence.
After a rest they hailed a cab and drove to the Heian Shrine.
Those weeping cherries just beyond the gallery to the left as one steps inside the gate and faces the main hall – those cherries said to be famous even abroad – how would they be this year? Was it perhaps already too late? Always they stepped through the gallery with a strange rising of the heart, but the five of them cried out as one when they saw that cloud of pink spread across the late-afternoon sky.
It was the climax of the pilgrimage, the moment treasured through a whole year. All was well, they had come again to the cherries in full bloom. There was a feeling of relief, and a hope that next year they might be as fortunate, and for Sachiko, at least, the thought that even if she herself stood here next year, Yukiko might be married and far away. The flowers would come again, but Yukiko would not. It was a saddening thought, and yet it contained almost a prayer that, for Yukiko’s sake, she might indeed no longer be with them. Sachiko had stood under these same trees with these same emotions the year before and the year before that, and each time she had found it hard to understand why they should still be together. She could not bear to look at Yukiko.