Hanami in Tokyo


cherry blossom viewing in Shinjuku gyoen tokyo
Japan is perhaps most romantically represented shrouded in a cloud of pink cherry blossoms.

This year, the peak of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season was Friday. I adore hanami, and try to visit new spots each year. There are several types of cherry blossoms, but the most popular is the Somei Yoshino variety (which is actually a relatively young species) which gives simple, five-petal flowers of an fragile alabaster color. Their popularity lies in their ephemerality, and the beauty of the rain of petals that falls when the wind blows (get a petal in your cup and that's good luck). 
I found out, coming here, that hanami is not quite what one has in mind.

As was written on a publication in Japan,
"Spring has sprung. And in Japan, that means it is time again to contemplate mono no aware, the ephemeral and slightly melancholy nature of being alive. Apparently, this is best achieved through the age-old tradition of sitting on blue polytarps, passing around child-sized bottles of sake (by which I mean the size of a human child, not a size fit for one), and generally making as much of an ass of yourself as possible in a crowded public park."
Tokyo is a crowded city. And hanami is no different. People start setting up tarps as early as 6-7am to "reserve" a spot for parties that could start as late as 6pm, so don't count on just showing up and finding a spot (although, you could be very lucky).

cherry blossoms at shinjuku gyoen tokyo
My favorite spots for a picnic are: Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen (pictured above), other places to visit Yoyogi Park, Sumida Park and Askayama Park (pictured below).

cherry blossoms at chidorigafuchi tokyo
 My favorite spots for a stroll are: Naka-Meguro, Chidorigafuchi (near the Emperor's palace and the well-known Yasukuni Shrine - but oh-so-crowded!) and Gokokuji Temple.

cherry blossoms at the emperor's palace
cherry blossoms tokyo
 Other places of note that I have not visited yet are: Inokashira Park, Koshikawa Park and Aoyama Cemetery.
cherry blossoms by the river
(left: Gokokuji, right: nakameguro) 

Surprisingly, although the cherry blossoms represent the coming of Spring, it is often still quite chilly and windy (this year for example, we were at temperatures around 12-13C and on the tail end of a pseudo-typhoon) so I don't particularly recommend spring dresses or skirts, but rather something relatively warm - especially if you are just going to be sitting, eating and drinking - and convenient for sitting on the ground (easily-removed shoes also a plus).

outfits for cherry blossom viewing
 [Shinjuku gyoen - Washington DC - Naka Meguro]

Most parks have a "no-alcohol" policy which is suspended for hanami, and you are free to bring whatever food you like, some stalls are also usually present, so some food is available on the spot. Traditionally, people bring edamame (soy beans), yakisoba (fried noodles), and sashimi (raw fish), with beer and sake or shochu (japanese rice wine and potato-based spirit), but I personally prefer to do it European style and snack on cheese, crackers and olives accompanied by a bottle of bubbly.

The day time is my favorite time to enjoy the cherry blossoms, but in the evenings, many trees are illuminated (please check your chosen park's opening hours beforehand). Just be warned that the later you go, the more inebriated other parties may be!

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