Monday, April 9, 2012

Our favorite cherry blossom spots in Tokyo


The beginning of spring in Japan means the arrival of the much-loved cherry blossoms all over the country, and this is celebrated with outdoor picnics and walks specifically to admire the flowers in bloom during the very brief period of its full glory.

The cherry blossom season varies each year, but the blossoms usually start appearing at the end of March and go on until the first week of April, although the actual period of full bloom may be as short as 48 hours. Right now, everything in Tokyo is just beautiful; although I can feel we're approaching the end of sakura season slowly, as the petals are already starting to fall.

This is why Japanese love sakura so much, by the way. Because they're truly enchanting, and also very much a fleeting beauty only. They make an appearance for a few days, and then they're gone almost just as soon as they appear.


Cherry blossom viewing – called o-hanami – is a national pastime and centuries-old ritual participated in by families, school clubs and companies. Almost every group in Japan will take time off during this season to drink sake and eat rice balls on plastic mats under the cherry trees in a park.

It’s very usual for a school club or company to assign its most junior members to stake claim on a good viewing spot under the cherry trees in a park from as early as 8 am, even if the party is scheduled for 630 pm.

So in the daytime, you’re likely to find the best parks covered almost completely with blue mats, with some student or young office employee sitting on his staked claim, waiting patiently for his or her colleagues.

Every Japanese has his or her favorite viewing spots in Japan. Although there are cherry blossoms everywhere in neighborhood parks and playgrounds, Travelife gives you some of the best public places to admire the cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

1
CHIDORIGAFUCHI PARK
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

The Chidorigafuchi moat on one side of the Imperial Palace in the direction of the Yasukuni Shrine is one of the most accessible viewing spots and also one of the most beautiful. Cherry blossoms line the upper banks of the moat, resulting in a most graceful picture of cherry blossoms on the water.

It’s best to visit in the early evening when the blossoms are lighted up very dramatically and you can stroll from end to end of the lane.


2
UENO PARK
Taito-ku, Tokyo


This is one of the most famous viewing spots in Japan and also among the most crowded. But if you’d like to see traditional cherry blossom festivities complete with food stalls and game booths for children, this is the park to visit. Be prepared to jostle with half of Tokyo, though.




3
SHINJUKU GYOEN PARK
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo


This 58.3-hectare park was once part of the estate of a prominent local family in the Edo period. Today it’s famous as a cherry blossom viewing spot because of its central location and the fact that it has over 1500 cherry trees on site.




4
INOKASHIRA PARK
Musashino, Tokyo


This suburban park is one of the most beautiful for viewing cherry blossoms, although some couples hesitate to visit it because of popular folklore that states that couples who visit the park together will eventually break up.

But if you’re not superstitious, this is a great place to experience real Tokyo life. There’s also a lively neighborhood of shops, bars and restaurants that are worth visiting after the park.

5
HAMA-RIKYU ONSHI TEIEN GARDEN
Chuo-ku, Tokyo

This public park right by Tokyo’s Sumida River is an excellent example of traditional Japanese formal gardens.

There’s a teahouse inside the park that demonstrates the Japanese tea ceremony and serves refreshments. During the cherry blossom season, there’s the added bonus of enjoying the cherry trees in full bloom as well.

Photos courtesy of JNTO.

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