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Cherry Blossom and the Arrival of Spring!
Spring has finally arrived in Tokyo! After months of cold weather, occasional snow, and biting wind, the arrival of the new season is very welcome. All around the city, cherry trees have started to bloom into beautiful and delicate pink and white blossoms. They line my walk to the station, fill all of the local parks, and frame the entrances to neighbourhood shrines.
Before moving to Japan back in 2016, I never understood the importance and significance of sakura, as cherry blossom is known in Japan, to the country. Of course they look pretty, but so do millions of other flowers. But in Japan the blooming of sakura is a special occurrence and much anticipated by the entire population.
Why are Cherry Blossoms so Popular in Japan?
Cherry blossoms are more than just pretty in Japan – they also symbolise the arrival of spring and the shortness of life. The cherry blossoms last only two short weeks before the petals fall – although it is possible to follow the blossoms north as they bloom in the north later than in the south! The Japanese fiscal and academic years start at the beginning of April (right at the same time as the arrival of the cherry blossoms) which means that sakura is also associated with new jobs, new schools, and generally new beginnings.
Traditionally, Japanese people love to gather during this season for parties under the blossoms with friends and families. This is known as hanami – which literally translates as “watching flowers.” When I lived in Shikoku, a more rural part of Japan, I loved to meet up with my colleagues and friends to drink, eat, and barbeque in the local parks. Unfortunately, this year the pandemic and continued existence of COVID-19 made it slightly more difficult to organise real hanami celebrations.
My Trips to Ueno and the Imperial Palace (sort of…)
However, I did still get to spend a day with my friends enjoying the scenery around Tokyo. We started by meeting at Ueno park, one of the most popular places to take a stroll and appreciate the beauty of the cherry blossom. I grabbed an onigiri (Japanese rice ball) stuffed full of chicken and mayonnaise from the convenience store at the station and picked up a black coffee to enjoy in the park.
Ueno park is known for being home to many of Japan’s best known museums and also one of the country’s largest zoos. But it is also filled with over 1000 cherry trees which line the pathway through the park. This makes Ueno one of the most popular, lively, and busy places to view sakura.
After eating my onigiri by the lake (and watching people struggling to row boats and posing for elaborate Instagram photos), we travelled across Tokyo towards the Imperial palace.
Here is a good opportunity to give a piece of advice – a lot of museums and tourist attractions are closed on Mondays! We forgot this… and of course the palace grounds were closed to the public. Despite this, we could still see some beautiful cherry blossoms around the edge of the palace!
Ginza Lion Beer Hall
I ended the night by getting a few beers and something to eat in Japan’s oldest beer hall. Located in Ginza, the Lion Beer Hall has survived world wars and earthquakes since opening. You can order a selection to European-inspired food – my German friend enjoyed the sausages
Cherry Blossom in Koganei Park
The next day I wanted to see cherry blossoms somewhere close to my house and with smaller crowds. So I walked to my local park and wasn’t disappointed!
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