Story and photos by KEIKO MORIYAMA
Special to The Rafu
Skies painted in pink.
Blossoms glittering like stars.
Gently gone too soon
Every spring, the Japan Meteorology Corporation forecasts the arrival of cherry blossoms or sakura. It’s an impossible science, but the Japanese study these reports diligently. The flowers bloom gradually from south to north, starting in Okinawa and ending in the northern island of Hokkaido. Mankai or full bloom usually lasts for only one week.
In the spring of 2019, Mother Nature was on my side and timed the spring season perfectly for my arrival in Japan. Tokyo showered us with clouds of pink and white blossoms. It was as if the entire city was swathed in cotton candy in various shades of pink. It’s difficult to describe the experience. These opulent flowers were beyond just “pretty.” They were splendidly beautiful.
The sakura season signifies the rejuvenation and appreciation of life and is a much-needed relief after a long dreary winter. Locals and tourists alike celebrate the season – at city parks, along river walks, and at local lakes – as if it were a week-long national holiday. Seen everywhere are the Hanami or flower viewing parties where friends and families gather under the giant cherry trees to relish the moment.
The following locations were a few of my favorite Sakura moments in Tokyo.
Chidorigafuchi Moat (top)
The Highlight: The fairy-tale views!
The wide moat threading its way through the grounds of the 130-year-old Imperial Palace with blossoms cascading gently over the water is simply magical. I felt like a princess in a fairy tale about to meet my handsome prince. If you have time for only one venue while in Tokyo, the impossibly gorgeous Chidorigafuchi would be the place.
Spring seemed to soften Tokyo, a dizzying metropolis of 10 million. Every place you went, the locals were engulfed in conversations about the best viewing spots for hanami. Joyfulness and infectious laughter flourished everywhere. I felt blessed to have experienced this extraordinary seasonal moment.
The Highlight: All the “pink” and sakura-themed food!
Once you get off at the Naka-Meguro station, head south and follow the crowd. The meandering river flanked by cherry blossoms takes you to a row of “pink” food booths selling such delectable treats as sakura mochi (pink confectionary wrapped in pickled cherry leaf), cotton candy, and pink champagne. I drank glasses of Chandon Rose with reckless abandon.
We ate lunch at the quaint Coeur et Coeur Café for gumbo stew (not your typical Japanese dish but delicious anyway) and spent a peaceful retreat from the crowd.
Shinjuku Gyoen Park
The Highlight: A massive park in the middle of Tokyo!
This expansive 144-acre park with its lush gardens, cobblestoned walkways, koi ponds, and pedestrian bridges is absolutely stunning during the mankai season. Bring a boxed bento lunch (which you can buy at the train stations) and picnic with the rest of the locals under the cherry trees.
I saw wedding couples having their photographs taken against a backdrop of pink blossoms. Honeymooners, young families, the elderly, and high-schoolers reveled in the beauty of the season.
The Highlight: The street food!
Brimming with ponds, temples, and museums, this gargantuan city park is known for food vendors selling everything from grilled crab skewers to takoyaki (fried octopus balls) to sticky dango (sticky rice cakes). Street food can’t get any better than this.
Divide your visit over a two-day period. There’s so much to do, see, and eat here. Spend a day to enjoy the views and the food, and another day to visit the temples and museums. You can easily spend an entire week at this park.
The Highlight: The white swan paddle boats!
Hundreds of cherry trees hug the perimeter of an oblong-shaped lake located in the center of the park. Rent a whimsical swan-shaped paddle boat for a totally different view of the blossoms.
What I treasured most was the stroll through the charming town of Kichijoji bordered by shops and cafes. Inokashira Park also serves as a gateway to the Park Zoo and the Ghibli Museum (showcasing the work of Hayao Miyazaki). A fantastic place for kids.
It saddens me that due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, fewer people will be able to view the blossoms this year. But there is light at the end of the tunnel and I’m hopeful that by Spring 2022, life will return to some level of normalcy so that we can all enjoy hanami.