The main reason we delayed our honeymoon for ten months after our wedding was because we really wanted to experience the cherry blossoms in Japan.
After reading Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson both Mr A and I were both very keen to witness the annual sakura (cherry blossom) extravaganza, when nature reigns over towns and cities across the country and a celebratory feeling takes over the normally reserved population. Japanese people love cherry blossom season and it is a big deal. Entire sightseeing events are planned around it, wedding season peaks and there’s even a dedicated cherry blossom forecast, which follows its progress as the blooms make their way from the south of the country to the north.
It’s always a bit of a gamble to plan a trip around a natural event like the sakura, as the weather can affect when it blooms quite drastically. But we decided that by going at the beginning of April we were giving ourselves the best chance of seeing the blossoms somewhere along the way during our three-week visit.
Turns out luck was on our side and we arrived in Tokyo at the height of the cherry blossom season. There are several well-known places to view the blossoms in the city, as well as a few quieter places which are popular with the locals. During our five days in the city, we did our best to see both; squeezing into packed parks to have our own picnic underneath the flower-filled trees and walking hand in hand along the less busy blossom-lined river banks.
Our first experience of the blooms was at Meguro canal, which is lined with sakura trees. After a day of running across Tokyo to retrieve our lost luggage, arriving at the canal really did feel like our holiday had finally begun. We followed the crowds from the station, reached the bridge and turned right and suddenly….there is was. Beautiful blossom as far as the eye could see, on one hand exactly what I’d imagined, but somehow also so much more.
The thing I love most about the cherry blossoms is that nature puts on a show and the people of Japan don’t try to compete with it. Often in the past I’ve been to see a natural beauty (take Niagara Falls for example) and have been left feeling disappointed by the way humans have tried to take it over, selling tickets for this and that, pushing over-priced food and drink and offering tacky trinkets to remember the experience. In Japan there is none of that. The blossom is the star of the show and no one is going to steal its thunder. I loved that as we were exploring we would see locals taking photos of themselves with the blossom, as though no one can quite believe that it came back again.
One aspect of the sakura that I was particularly excited to see was the hanami (cherry blossom picnic). I’d read about the important business of finding the perfect spot under the blossom trees to eat your picnic; and Yoyogi-koen park didn’t disappoint. When we arrived every inch of grass had been covered with blue tarpaulin picnic sheets (the big mystery was where everyone got the tarpaulin from) and every age group was represented. There were old grannies and granddads chatting away over lunch; students having a few drinks and enjoying a dance; ex-pats mingling with their local counterparts and even businessmen dressed in suits taking a break from the office. It was charming that even in this relaxed atmosphere social conventions were adhered to – at the edge of every blanket were neat rows of shoes, as Japanese people never wear shoes in their homes.
Squeezing our way into the middle of the action we felt quite self-conscious laying out our beach towel – screaming tourists. But no one batted an eyelid. In sakura season everyone is welcome.
Another day we went to Ueno Park which has a beautiful sakura tunnel formed by tress lining each side of a pathway. With a temple in the background and a beautiful lake, this is the place to come if you want one of those perfect tourist brochure photos (although you’ll have to arrive early, as it is packed.) There’s also the possibility to have a hanami here, although only in designated spaces on the concrete paths, which kind of takes away the romance of it.
There are many places in Tokyo where you can seek out the sakura, but what made me the happiest was when we came across the cherry blossom when we weren’t expecting it. On a train journey home, or a walk to a temple, or just around the corner from our Airbnb apartment. It never failed to make me smile and I never got over that initial excitement of seeing it. To be honest, thanks to the blossom, our honeymoon was made within just a few days of our holiday.