The end of March and the beginning of April in Tokyo means cherry blossom time. Since April is also the start of the new school year, students’ memories are usually of the Entrance Ceremony under blossoms, and a lot of new 1st years take commemorative photos under the trees.
Not this year. The weather we had earlier in the year meant that the blossoms opened much earlier than usual; I saw the first sakura open in Shinagawa on March 17th. While ordinarily I would have been thrilled to see them this year I wasn’t, because I was flying back to the UK on the 18th, and wouldn’t be back in Japan until the 28th. To add insult to injury, the weather in the UK was foul, and for two days I couldn’t even leave the village:
The photo on the left is the garden, where the snow was up to 30cm deep; the one on the right is the Peak District near Hathersage, where we finally managed to go just before I flew back to Japan. It may look beautiful but it was so cold, and watching all the photos of sakura popping up on Facebook was a frustrating experience. I just kept hoping that some blossoms would hang on until I got back.
I landed at Narita at about 10am on the 28th, and was home by about 1pm. Yes, it took 3 hours, mainly because ‘Tokyo New International Airport’, which is Narita’s official name, is misleading; it’s not even in Tokyo, but 60km away from the centre of the city, in Chiba prefecture. While I was waiting for the bus back into the city I was relieved to see some blossoms, and on the bus I received messages from friends telling me I would still be able to do o-hanami (お花見, or cherry blossom viewing) if I got my skates on.
So, back home and then into school to see the sakura there. We have quite a lot of old trees and the driveway and landscaped garden are beautiful. It’s a pity the new students won’t see them at all this year, but the students who have been coming to school for club activities have been able to enjoy them. I spent a happy time with a friend and colleague taking photos of our blossoms,
of blossoms reflected in the stream in the landscaped garden. I have to confess that when I took a photo like this last year I was really trying to take one of all the tadpoles but ended up with the reflected blossoms instead. This year, it was on purpose!
Having successfully viewed the blossoms at school, I decided to leave early for church (the Maundy Thursday service started at 7pm) and stopped off in Naka Meguro (中目黒) where the sakura line the river.
Since it’s not too far from where I live it’s my favourite place to go. I arrived there about 4pm so the light was fading a little and the blossoms were a little past their best, but it was still beautiful. The petals were already starting to fall into the water and some of the leaves were opening too.
There were still quite a lot of people walking along the river, and there were some stalls selling snacks, but I imagine it was much more crowded the previous weekend when the sakura were considered ‘mankai’ (満開), or in full bloom. Still, I felt happy that I had managed to come back in time to enjoy them.
At the beginning of this new week the petals are falling fast and there are a lot of leaves on the trees now. I missed the sakuras’ full glory this year but at least I saw some. My favourite trees are just down the road from where I live, because there is a regular sakura and a weeping one side by side, and together their blossoms are beautiful.
However, for sheer breath-taking, over-the-top frothy pinkness, it’s worth walking around the Imperial Palace, or going to Aoyama Cemetery, Naka Meguro or any other place where there are large numbers of trees.
I used to find it all a bit much, I thought it was annoying that any shop that could would create a pink or sakura version of their products. (Sakura tofu, anyone? Actually it’s very good.) I’m also not a fan of huge crowds (yes, I know I live in a crowded metropolis, but anyway . . .) so sitting on a blue tarpaulin with a generator (for that personal karaoke experience) or fighting my way through crowds didn’t appeal. But I have made my peace with the noise and the crush, I have found the places which are a little less crowded, chosen times when a lot of people will be at work, and now every year look forward to that short time when Tokyo goes pink, when we all go outside and wonder at the beauty of it all.