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Tokyo: Just Opened

Shinjuku Gyoen

The 2016 cherry blossom season has gotten underway! From today, the japan-guide.com team will be reporting from popular cherry blossom spots across the country about the blossoms' current state until the seasonal spectacle reaches southern Hokkaido around early May. See a list of upcoming scheduled reports here.

This winter has been warmer than average across Japan except in southern Kyushu and Okinawa. It was especially warm in central and eastern Japan. As a result, the season is currently progressing several days ahead of its average pace in most areas of the country.

Yesterday, Fukuoka and Nagoya were the first two cities on the main islands to declare their blossoms open, four and seven days earlier than average. Today, I visited several popular hanami spots in Tokyo whose representative tree (at Yasukuni Shrine) is expected to be declared open today or tomorrow.

Yasukuni Shrine: Just Opened

As mentioned above, Tokyo's representative cherry tree stands on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine. When at least five or six blossoms on the representative tree have opened, the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are officially declared open. When I visited the tree today around noon, I was able to spot two fully opened blossoms and multiple candidates that were on the verge of opening. I would expect the announcement of Tokyo's blossoms having opened to be made later this afternoon.

Tokyo's representative tree
The city's first two open official blossoms
Keen interest in the representative tree

Chidorigafuchi: About To Open

Just a short walk away from Yasukuni Shrine is Chidorigafuchi, another of Tokyo's best hanami spots. The hundreds of cherry trees that line the moat of the former Edo Castle's north citadel were a little bit behind the pace of Tokyo's representative tree. I counted zero open blossoms and just a single rental boat.

The lone rental boat
A relatively advanced branch at Chidorigafuchi
The walking path along Chidorigafuchi

Ueno Park: Just Opened

Earlier in the day, I visited Ueno Park, one or Tokyo's most popular and liveliest cherry blossom spots. But this morning at 9am with most blossoms still closed, the park was still enjoying its last, relatively calm moments before the advent of the spring-hungry masses.

The cherry trees along the park's central, broad walkway are some of the earlier to open in the city each year, so it wasn't surprising to see scattered open blossoms on some of the trees already. Overall, however, most trees were still closed, and it is likely to take over a week until full bloom is reached here. The trees along Shinobazu Pond were even less advanced.

Relative calm
One of the most advanced branches
Strict hanami rules
Waste management
A street vendor ready to welcome the crowds
Along Shinobazu Pond
Most of these buds need a couple more days to open
An early-flowering Yoko cherry tree in the distance
The Yoko cherry tree attracts photographers

Koishikawa Korakuen: Just Opened

Koishikawa Korakuen is one of the nicest traditional Japanese gardens in Tokyo. Around the garden's entrance stand a few weeping cherry trees that open a couple days earlier than the more numerous Somei Yoshino trees. And, indeed, the prominently placed, pretty weeping cherry at the garden entrance has already started opening its flowers.

Weeping cherries at Koishikawa Korakuen
This weeping cherry tree is approaching the 10 percent mark
A nice spot to read the morning newspaper
The plum garden is decisively beyond its peak
Early spring at Koishikawa Korakuen

Shinjuku Gyoen: About To Open

Apart from scattered trees of early-flowering cherry varieties, the cherry trees at Shinjuku Gyoen were still closed. Nevertheless, lots of visitors took full advantage of the beautiful weather on the middle day of the spring equinox long weekend and were picnicking on the park's spacious lawns.

Idyllic equinox weekend at Shinjuku Gyoen
These buds need several more warm days before they open up
Picnicking in front of early-flowering cherry trees
Early-flowering Yoko cherry tree
A traditionally dressed couple in front of an opening weeping cherry tree

On my way back to Shinjuku Station, I observed the last preparations made on the new station building south of the station's south exit. Japan's largest bus terminal will open in this building on April 4 alongside a taxi terminal, some shopping and a skyscraper with office space.

New building south of Shinjuku Station's south exit