by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2014/03/04 - Early Tokyo Blossom Report
Started off the day with checking out the early flowering sakura varieties, namely the Okanzakura and the Kanzakura types in Ueno Park. It was sunny with blue skies and not much cold wind, making for a perfect day out. Ueno Park is home to many sakura trees, making it a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing when the flowers are in bloom. Following the pathway from the entrance of the park, we walked under many budding cherry trees. At the end of the cherry tree pathway, there are two coffee places on either side of the pathway and the entrance to Ueno Zoo on the left.
We turned left in the direction of the zoo, and went to Ueno Toshogu Shrine, a stone's throw away from the zoo. Ueno Toshogu Shrine has been under renovation works for the past five years and work was finally completed in December 2013. The shrine, that is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo Shogunate , is now mostly covered in gold foil, with newly lacquered wooden beam supports. Entry into the shrine grounds costs 500 yen for adults and 200 yen for children aged 6 to 12 years. The shrine grounds are open from 9.30am till 5pm in the evening.
There is also a peony garden beside Ueno Toshogu Shrine. Admission into the peony garden is not included in the shrine admission price, and is a separate charge of 600 yen. Unfortunately for us, the peonies can only be viewed in winter (January to mid February) and spring (mid April to mid May).
From Ueno Toshogu Shrine, we headed down the steps towards Bentendo. Bentendo is located on an island in Shinobazu Pond, and is dedicated to Benten, the goddess of good fortune, wealth, music and knowledge. There are cherry trees planted around the temple as well, making it very pretty when the cherry blossoms are all in bloom. There are also swan paddle boats available for rent behind Bentendo to explore part of Shinobazu pond and view the cherry blossoms from the water. However, as most of the trees are only budding, it will be a few more weeks before the area will be filled with an explosion of colours from the blossoms.
Leaving the Ueno Park area, we walked towards Yushima Tenjin Shrine (also known as Yushima Tenmangu) a short walk from Ueno, in the Okachimachi area. Yushima Tenjin Shrine is a very popular plum blossom viewing spot as well as a popular shrine amongst students as it enshrines the god of scholarship. Entering the shrine grounds, we were greeted by many plum blossoms. There were different varieties, and they created a lovely scent of the plum blossoms in the air. There is also section of the grounds where many festival food stalls are set up, selling all sorts of delectable treats.
Not to be distracted by the tantalising smell of food, we pressed on and went to Koishikawa Korakuen near Iidabashi. The garden, Koishikawa Korakuen, used to be part of the Tokyo residence of the Mito branch of the ruling Tokugawa family. There is a very calm and peaceful feel about the garden, making it a very lovely place to take a stroll or paint on the garden grounds. The top of Tokyo Dome can also be seen peeping over the trees in the western perimeter, creating a juxtaposition of old versus modern landscapes. There is a plum grove in the northern section of the garden and all of the trees were blossoming already. We also saw retirees sketching and watercolouring beautiful images of the plum blossoms. Note that there is renovation works currently ongoing in Koishikawa Korakuen, with some areas cordoned off, that may affect your enjoyment of the garden and flowers.
After lunch in Kagurazaka nearby, we headed to our last garden stop of the day, Shinjuku Gyoen. Shinjuku Gyoen is a large park comprising of three smaller gardens. There are many cherry trees over the park, making it a popular cherry blossom viewing spot. The early blossoming sakura variety, Kanzakura, were in bloom and it was a beautiful sight to see all the pink from the cherry blossoms amidst the green of the other trees around. Unfortunately, Shinjuku Gyoen is also one of the parks affected by the heavy snowfall in early February, with a part of the park closed for maintenance work, and areas around some trees cordoned off where branches have fallen down.
Finally, to end the day, we went to the newly opened Postal Museum on the 9th floor of Tokyo Skytree Town. Albeit a little small, there were many different exhibits on display. There were a couple of interactive activities you could participate in and the one we found to be the more interesting one was the postal delivery simulation. There are also many red postal boxes dotted around the museum showing the progression of the design. Any letters or postcards posted at the museum would be stamped with the rubber stamp specific to the Postal Museum. Asides from these, there were different postal equipment used in Japan on display as well. This was particularly interesting as it shows the history and evolution of the postal service in Japan. Also, there is a section of the museum showing international postal systems, their postal delivery vehicles and uniform, as well as a large collection of stamps from all around the world.