Mar 27, 2014

Five most popular cherry viewing spots in Tokyo

Hi everyone.

This winter was unusually long. Until just a week ago we couldn't go out without a thick down jacket and a scarf, but it is getting warm all of a sudden. Today the temperature reached 20℃! Very strange. Is it one of the effects of global climate change?

We had thought sakura (cherry blossoms) would not bloom till early April but buds are rapidly growing, and the Japan Meteorological Agency announced on the 25th the first bloom of sakura in Tokyo region, and you can probably enjoy flower viewing this weekend.

Hurry up! Don't miss the chance. The life of cherry blossoms are very short, usually lasting only a week and often only a couple of days depending on the weather. Cherry flowers are so delicate that they fall easily due to rain and strong winds. 

Why do Japanese love cherry blossoms so much?


Good questions! Sakura (please let me call this flower in Japanese) is our national flower and it has been loved since ancient times. Many poems and songs with the theme of sakura
have been created.

Our ancestors who were living with wars and seeing many ruling powers rise and fall understood that nothing could stay the same. They repeatedly wrote in literature that life was ephemeral. Therefore, short-lived sakura that gorgeously blooms and gracefully falls is the flower that best represented their philosophy about life. -- I was taught that way, but I'm not really sure about it.  
It is true that many of us have a sentimental attachment to sakura, though. As Japanese school year starts in April and ends in March, the very sakura season, when we see the pink flowers, we instantly remember the sadness of separation from old school days and anticipation for new life.

What is the kind of cherry tree most commonly seen in Japan? 


Actually there are many kinds of cherry trees in Japan, but "sakura" usually refers to cultivar called Somei Yoshino, which can be most commonly seen in Japan. .

Its flowers are pale pink, almost pure white. According to popular belief,  Somei Yoshino is an artificial hybrid developed in the 19th century from a single tree, which means all the existing Somei Yoshino trees are the clones of the original tree. Some say this can explain why sakura trees in the same region start to bloom at the same time. Well, what do you think?

Let's do hanami, flower-viewing party!

Hanami (花見) literally means flower viewing but this also refers to "picnic party under the cherry trees."  It is a seasonal event Japanese have practiced for centuries, and you should try just for once, because it is so much fun and relaxing.

In popular sakura-viewing places, however, staking out a good spot is such a tedious work. Arriving only a few hours before the party time is too late. There are so many crazy people who spread out a blue picnic sheet (water-proof!) in the early morning for the evening party, waiting for hours for other members to come. It is often the first mission of new employees who have just joined the company in April.

If you'd like to check out what Japanese flower viewing is like, visit Ueno Park in Tokyo. You'll see thousands of people enjoying hanami party, drinking alcohol, singing with portable karaoke machines (frankly, I hate those noisy people singing karaoke in public) , etc.

5 most popular Hanami Spots in Tokyo area


Ueno Park (上野公園 Ueno Koen): Probably most popular hanami spot in Tokyo. Only 5 minutes from JR Ueno Station. About 800 sakura trees. The park is open till 11 p.m., but paper lanterns light 5:30- 8 p.m. There are national museums and a zoo in the park. Bringing in alcohol allowed. Address: 5-10 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-3828-5644

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen) : Originally a part of the site of a private mansion of Lord Naito, a feudal lord of the Edo Period. In the site of 58.3 ha (144 acres) 1,300 cherry trees of 65 kinds are planted. You can have a picnic under the trees but alcohol is prohibited in the park. More quiet than Ueno Park. Admission is 200 yen for adults, 50 yen for elementary and junior high schools students. 5 minutes from Shinjuku Gyoen Station on the Tokyo Metro subway line, JR Sendagaya Station. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Address: 11 Naito-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku, Tokyo; tel: 03-3350-0151 English website

Chidorigafuchi Park (千鳥ヶ淵 Chidorigafuchi):  700-meter long Chidorigafuchi Pedestrian Path with 170 cherry trees between Hanzo Moat of the Imperial Palace and Uchibori Dori Street. 3minutes from Exit No.3 of Hanzomon Station of the subway Hanzomon Line. You can enjoy a rowboat ride on the moat of the Imperial Palace, looking up cherry blossoms. During the cherry blossom seasons March 28-April 4, boats are available 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. for 800 yen (30 minutes).  For further information, contact Chiyoda City Tourism Association at 03-3556-0391

Meturo River (目黒川 Megro-gawa) : About 800 cherry trees along the 3.8 km Sumida river, lit up at night April 1-10, 6-9 p.m. Sakura Festival will be held on April 6. 2 minutes from Meguro Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line.

Sumida Park (墨田公園 Sumida Koen): well-known sakura viewing spot since the Edo Period. 660 cherry trees along the Sumida River will be lit up during Sakura Festival period, March 29-Aril 6. 5 munutes from Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro subway line and Tobu Line. For more information, Sumida Tourist Association at 03-5608-6951.

If you want to avoid over-crowded spots,  why don't you go to old cemeteries? Some places such as Aoyama Cemetery (2-2-2 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 7 minutes from Gaien-mae Station on the Ginza subway line, 9 minutes from Aoyama Itchome Station on the Hanzomon, Oedo, Ginza lines) or Yanaka Cemetery (7-5-24 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 6 minutes from JR Nippori Station), are well-known for beautiful cherry blossoms, and surely less busy.

Long time ago I went to Aoyama Cemetery for hanami after work. That was the idea of my ex-colleague (he was American). I was very reluctant, but to my surprise, there were unexpectedly many people having a party, sitting in front of the gravestones of someone they didn't know at all. Drinking sake in a cemetery at night -- kind of exciting, no?


最高気温 (さいこうきおん): highest temperature
暖かい(あたたかい): warm

桜 (さくら) cherry blossoms 
開花 (かいか): blooming
気象庁 (きしょうちょう): The Japan Meteorological Agency
開花宣言 (かいかせんげん): announcement of blooming  


昔 (むかし): ancient times
愛する(あいする): to love
あっという間(ま)に: very short time
散る (ちる): to fall
はかない: ephemeral
美 (び): beauty
感性 (かんせい): sensitivity
時期(じき): time
入学式 (にゅうがくしき): entrance ceremony
卒業式(そつぎょうしき): graduation ceremony
特別な (とくべつな): special
感情 (かんじょう): feeling

最も(もっとも): most
人工的に (じんこうてきに): artificially
品種 (ひんしゅ): cultivar
全て (すべて): all


単に (たんに): simply
宴会 (えんかい): party, dinner


試す (ためす): to try
場所取り (ばしょとり): staking out a place

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