A lot of people say that the best season to visit Japan is during the sakura season. Planning ahead for a sakura-viewing trip is tricky because you just don’t know when it’ll fully bloom! I’d visited Tokyo a couple of times during the same time of the year, but never able to experience the sakura blooming in its full glory. I consider myself lucky this year to find the sakura blooming earlier than forecasted, in Tokyo.
On the date of my arrival, it was apparent that the sakura was beginning to bloom. The florets had already extended. Unusual. Considering the trend in recent years, the blooming process should only begin much later.
The Japanese government had earlier campaigned for the Cherry Blossom Festival (a festival taken very seriously) on TV ads, banners, etc. This year, it’s set to be held early April. On the news this one day, they’d admitted that the sakura is now believed to fully bloom earlier than the forecasted date — that was a problem for them, but it’s good news for me!
I went to Kofu shortly after and returned to Tokyo a few days later.
As the bus I was on entered Tokyo, passing through several flyovers, the city’s landscape totally changed as compared to the day I arrived! Lush sakura trees surrounded the it, from the suburbs to the central. Was such a beautiful view, even the Japanese took out their cameras for a few shots!
The first thing we did after checking in, was to go to Ueno Koen (Ueno Park), the largest and possibly most popular sakura viewing spots in Tokyo. It was a weekend, so there were so many people, it was chaotic.
During the full bloom, hanami parties are usually held at several sakura-viewing spots, like Ueno Koen. Hanami is an activity where groups of people gather and have picnic under the sakura trees. Imagine the sakura gradually falling to the ground like snow, as you have your meal. Ahh, bliss!
Fun to see different groups enjoying their hanami. The more interesting groups I saw? The geek meetup, where a few young men were having their bento, drinking beer while assembling Gundam together and the young and loud, almost drunkards who’d brought bottles of drinks, shisha waterpipes and musical instruments, setting up their own daylight bar. Not something you see so often.
Stalls were set up in several areas away from the hanami areas, too, selling all kinds of Japanese food which are either freshly prepared, cooked or grilled. I’m putting a picture of this chocolate coated bananas with rainbow rice just because they look good.
Experiencing the full bloom of sakura doesn’t have to be about food either. If you don’t feel like eating, go rent a pink swan and paddle your way through the lake with a lover.
And if you’re lucky, you might see a group of people (from toddlers to grown men and women), dressed as if they came from the Grease era, playing music and dancing at the plaza like nobody’s business.
Looks like fun, doesn’t it?
If I have the chance to experience hanami again, I’d do it a little differently. If you want to have a picnic beneath the sakura, too, I suggest:
- Following the full bloom forecast closely so you can plan better
- Waking up early and being prepared – from mats, food, drinks and a good camera!
- Going to a less crowded park, like Shinjuku Gyoen and Inokashira Koen
- Bringing a surgical mask with you if you’re asthmatic (I got an attack because there were pollens everywhere!)