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Tokyo: Just Opened

Ueno Park

Cherry blossom reporting is now fully underway, and from here on out we'll be bringing you nearly daily sakura reports from across the country. Today sees us back in Tokyo to check out a few more of the city's best cherry blossom spots, most of which were not yet covered in Schauwecker's report from March 20th.

As Schauwecker observed in his report, the cherry trees around most of Japan are opening earlier than average this season due to this year's warm weather. Tokyo's representative tree at Yasukuni Shrine opened on the 21st, five days earlier than average, and these early bloomings have been the general trend elsewhere around the country. But before you start to worry that you will completely miss the season, note that cooler temperatures have been forecast for the next several days, which will serve to blunt the progress a bit. So at the moment, we're predicting the best viewing around Tokyo to fall from March 29 to April 6 with most of the other major cities following suit within a day or two of the capital. You can see our most current sakura forecast here.

Asukayama Park: Just Opened

My first stop this morning was to Asukayama Park, a beautiful city park located on the hill above Oji Station in the Kita District of Tokyo. The grounds are home to around 650 cherry trees, which were first planted on the hillside during the Edo Period as part of the Tokugawa Shogun's efforts to create cherry blossom spots to beautify the capital and entertain the people. As a sort of precursor to modern cherry blossom spots, the park became a popular sakura viewing location where the common people held hanami parties in a similar style to how they are carried on today with picnicking under the trees.

While strolling around the hilly park, it was easy to picture one of the many ukio-e prints that depict Edo Period cherry blossom viewing parties around Asukayama, with revelers picnicking in the company of friends and loved ones among the small rolling hills that make up the park. Yet these images only existed in my mind this morning, as the cold, drizzly weather and mostly closed cherry blossoms discouraged all but the most determined visitors. The blossom really have only just opened, so the lack of people didn't really come as much of a surprise. I'd give it another few days, say around Monday, for it to really get going around the park. In addition, the cherry trees around Asukayama Park will be lit up through the blooming season in the evenings from 17:30 to 21:00.

The rolling hills of Asukayama Park
The cherry blossoms were just beginning to open around Asukayama
Intrepid travelers braving the weather for cherry blossoms
Trains passing through Oji Station

Rikugien: Approaching Full Bloom

A quick subway trip brought me to Rikugien, which is one of Tokyo's favorite gardens. While best known for the amazing autumn colors that can be seen around the grounds, Rikugien also has several cherry trees scattered about, including a particularly large and well known weeping cherry tree just inside the garden's main entrance. Weeping cherry trees tend to bloom slightly ahead of the more ubiquitous Somei Yoshino cherry tree variety, and Rikugien's large specimen has already passed the halfway mark to full bloom. Definitely a nice sight to see if you are in Tokyo already and worrying about being too early.

Rikugien's large weeping cherry tree
Its blossoms are starting to approach full bloom
Underneath the tree

There are also a handful of other cherry tree varieties around Rikugien which have mostly only just started to bloom, such as a short tunnel of Somei Yoshino trees along the east side of the garden. Rikugien is currently running its seasonal sakura illumination through April 3rd, during which time parts of the garden will be lit up in the evenings until 21:00.

Tunnel of Somei Yoshino trees
Rikugien in the rain

Sumida Park: Just Opened

Next leg of today's itinerary brought me to Sumida Park, which runs alongside the Sumida River in the popular Asakusa district of Tokyo. More than six hundred trees line the riverbank, which are particularly dense around the Tokyo Water Bus pier where the blossoms can be enjoyed while strolling through the park or by picnicking beneath the trees. The cherry blossoms around Sumida Park tend to bloom on a similar schedule as those around Ueno Park; however, while Ueno Park's blossoms are already developing quickly, the flowers along the Sumida River have barely begun to open. It was just as well today considering the weather, as the gloomy skies brought light drizzling and covered the Tokyo Skytree above its lower observation deck. The trees around Sumida Park are also illuminated in the evenings through April 10th, with the light up starting at dusks and ending around 21:00.

Sumida Park
The blossoms have just opened
Nearly empty streets
Tokyo Skytree through the bud(ding) mist

Ueno Park: Blossoms Opening

The last spot I visited today was Ueno Park, which is one of the most popular and busiest cherry blossom spots in the country. The trees around Ueno Park tend to bloom earlier than the rest of Tokyo, and this was demonstrated again on the March 20th trip when Schauwecker witnessed the blossoms at the early opening stages while most of the rest of Tokyo was only just opening. In the meantime, the blossoms have progressed even further, but still have yet to reach the halfway point. Several more days of nice weather are still needed before full bloom is reached around Ueno Park.

The poor weather probably kept the picnickers away today, but there were still throngs of people strolling down the main cherry blossom tunnel that cuts through the park. The Shinobazu Pond area was also relatively crowded, even as the trees down there tend to bloom slightly later than the main cherry blossom tunnel. Today they looked as if they only just started opening, which means that the area is several days behind the upper parts of the park. Similar to today's other spots, the cherry blossoms around Ueno Park will be lit up in the evenings through April 10th, with the trees illuminated from 17:00 to 20:00.

Ueno Park
The blossoms were opening quickly around the park
Not many people were picnicking due to the weather
The trees around Shinobazu Pond are just opening
Food stalls line the approach to Bentendo