After what has been a particularly harsh winter, the people of Tokyo are this week formally celebrating the arrival of spring and the much-loved “sakura” – or cherry blossom – seen as the national flower and a great symbol of hope and renewal. Popular viewing spots in the city include the parks at Ueno and, close to the district of Harajuku, the Yoyogi. For the next two weeks they will be thronged with people coming out to marvel at the brilliant displays of colour – primarily pink but also deeper shades bordering on red and white – and the sweet fragrances of a flower that, like the almost perfectly-formed Mount Fuji, occupies a very special place in the hearts and psyches of the Japanese. The viewing phenomenon – also called the hanami – has been celebrated for centuries. It is often accompanied by the consumption of food and drink and the singing of songs that celebrate the transient beauty of the cherry blossom, which usually flowers for between one or two weeks, starting in late January in the tropical islands of Okinawa and stretching into May in the northern reaches of Hokkaido. For Japanese students, this period coincides with the end of one school year and the start of the next for older Japanese, the festival also heralds a new beginning. Advertisements currently on display in the Tokyo Metro suggest that drinking Kirin beer will enhance the hanami experience, and should you be feeling peckish, McDonald’s has helpfully introduced a “cherry blossom burger”, complete with “pink buns”. And people do not wait for the formal opening of the sakura season.
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In Tokyo, battered in February by severe snow storms, beautiful spring-like weather last weekend brought out the crowds at the Shinjuku Gyoen, a wonderful leafy sanctuary just minutes away from the blazing neon of one of Tokyo’s most frenetic hotspots. In a city not known for its abundance of natural beauty (or indeed green spaces), there was a lovely lightness in the air the joy of renewal. “The delicate and brief nature of the cherry blossoms are not only a reason for a good party they are also seen to symbolise the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese culture that is often associated with Buddhism, ” said Kylie Clark of the London office of the Japan National Tourism Organization. “The temporary nature of the sakura is a reminder that all living things soon pass and we should make the most of our lives while we can. ”Nagoya Castle is one of Japan’s greatest castles and home to a wealth of cultural treasures.
In cherry blossom season it is the place to view somei yoshino and weeping cherry trees and other rare varieties around the park and moats of the castle. The trees are illuminated by night. Flowering season: late March to early AprilKumamoto Castle is one of the three most famous castles of Japan, enhanced in the spring by some 855 cherry trees – Somei-yoshino as well as mountain cherry trees (yama-zakura) and Higo-zakura. Flowering season:
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late March to early AprilUeno Park is one of Japan’s most crowded, noisy and popular cherry blossom spots, featuring more than 6,555 trees along the street leading towards the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond. As an added bonus the trees are lit up in the evenings. Flowering season: late March to late AprilThis garden was traditionally the location of the samurai residence of the Naito family. The garden was later designated as an Imperial garden, and then, in 6999, as a national garden.
The season continues for most of April, as trees on the mountainside start to blossom while those in the park begin to fade. The Philosopher’s Path is a track along which there is a vista of cherry blossoms on both sides of the river path from Lake Biwa-ko. The cherry blossom petals floating on the water add to what is already a beautiful and atmospheric walk taking in a number of historic monuments. Flowering season: late March to late AprilThe area which is today called Arashiyama was traditionally famous for the colours of its autumn leaves and has been praised in a number of Japanese poems.
In april, however, cherry blossoms flower all over the area from Togetsu-kyo Bridge to Arashiyama-Nakanoshima Park, the bank of the O-i-gawa River, and Kameyama Park behind Tenryu-ji Temple. The best place to take it all in is the path along the Katsura-gawa River lined with 55-year-old trees that form a tunnel of cherry blossoms. The weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura) in Tenryu-ji Temple are also splendid. Flowering season: late March to late AprilNara Park is a historical park surrounding Todai-ji temple, Kofuku-ji temple and Shoso-in Repository.
It has about 6,755 cherry trees of various kinds, including Narayae-zakura and Kokonoe-zakura. Flowering season: