Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cherry blossom viewing: Discover the charm of Japan’s spring

There is nothing more spectacular than the spellbindingly beautiful sight of cherry blossoms in full bloom. Visit Japan this spring to admire the cherry blossoms and enjoy a traditional ‘hanami’ picnic party under the blooming trees.

Spring is when Japan's famous cherry blossom (sakura) trees burst forth into blossom. Depending on the weather, the starting date and length of the blossoms varies year to year. On Japan's southern, subtropical islands of Okinawa, cherry blossoms open as early as January, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, they bloom as late as May.

In 2016, the sakura are expected to start blooming on 26 March in Tokyo and on 29 March in Kyoto and Hiroshima. In the north of Japan, in Hokkaido, they are expected to bloom from around 2 May. The traditional custom of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is to visit mountains and parks with cherry blossoms and hold sake-drinking parties beneath the cherry trees in full blossom.

Japan’s love affair with cherry blossom is so strong, that if visiting in spring you will find the likes of cherry blossom ice-cream, cherry blossom sake, cherry blossom tea and cherry blossom KitKats - it all goes a little cherry blossom crazy!

Here are some great places for cherry blossom viewing.

Ueno Park & Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park is one of Japan's most crowded, noisy and popular cherry blossom spots, featuring more than 1,000 trees along the street leading towards the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond. Trees are lit up in the evenings. The rows of cherry trees, Somei-yoshino and mountain cherry trees, bloom magnificently in spring, making the park very popular for holding parties under a canopy of beautiful flowers.

Shinjuku Gyoen Garden is the location of the samurai residence of the Naito family. It has been famous for its cherry trees since the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and today is one of the most popular spots in Tokyo to enjoy the spring blooms.

Lake Kawaguchi near Mt. Fuji

The surrounding area of Lake Kawaguchi, which is one of the five lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji, is recommended to enjoy both Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms.

Two of the best spots are the lakeside promenade around the Kawaguchiko Music Forest and the small Ubuyagasaki peninsula next to the Kawaguchiko Ohashi Bridge. When the lake surface is quiet, you will be able to see “Sakasa Fuji” the inverted image of Mt. Fuji reflected on the lake surface.

Maruyama Park & the Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto and is renowned for its huge illuminated weeping cherry trees, best viewed at night. Cherry blossom season continues through April, as trees on the mountainside start to blossom while the park's trees fade to green.

You can also explore the Philosopher's Path which is a walking track from Ginkaku-ji Temple to Wakaoji-jinja Shrine, to see 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 between the historic monuments such as Ginkaku-ji Temple, Honen-in Shrine, and Eikan-do Temple.

Goryokaku Fort Park, Hakode City, Hokkaido

Hokkaido is where plum and cherry trees blossom at the same time.

Goryokaku was a western-style fort built by the Tokugawa shogunate (1857-66) in the harbour city of Hakodate. The star-shaped ruins of the fort are now a park full of cherry blossom trees.

Nara Park, Nara

Nara Park is a historical park surrounding Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple and Shoso-in Repository. Constructed in the Tempyo Period (710-784), it spreads over a vast area of a lush and green landscape. Herds of deer are renowned there as the holy messengers of Kasuga-taisha Shrine.

The park has about 1,700 cherry trees of various kinds and offers a number of scenic spots, such as Sagi Pond, the foot of Mt. Wakakusa, the remains of To-do Tower, the Kofuku-ji Temple area, Ara Pond, Kasugano-enchi, and the Todai-ji Temple area.

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