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Pretty in pink: The cherry blossoms in Toyko

“If there’s one thing Japan do well, apart from eating raw fish, it’s beautiful parks. These guys know how to landscape gardens and they like doing it a lot.”

Cherry Blossom season changes slightly every year but it lies somewhere between late March and early April. It’s the time where all those pink flowers come out for about two weeks. I was particularly amazed at the cherry blossoms, especially as I was previously under the notion of, “just how good can a bunch of pink flowers be?” They’re actually one of the most memorable things I have seen on my trip; there genuinely isn’t anything like them anywhere else in the world.

Really? Yes; they’re everywhere.

Blossoms

If there’s one thing Japan do well, apart from eating raw fish, it’s beautiful parks. These guys know how to landscape gardens and they like doing it a lot. It’s almost a thing of art, so why not see it in a natural bright pink limited edition? Tokyo is full of parks. I didn’t realise just HOW big the occasion was. It’s not just seasonal advertising and marketing beer in pink labels; it’s on their currency. Literally, every manhole you will see is decorated with them.

Nothing says National Cultural Importance than differently decorated manholes with flowers on them. Trust me.

Manhole 2

I feel if we had come another time of the year, we’d be reminded at least once during our visit that we weren’t here getting to see the cherry blossoms. So any trip would be advised around this time of year. You could spend a week walking through different parks in Tokyo and not get bored. I know, because that’s what we did. So let’s run through the best parks to see:

Ueno Park

On our first day we went to Ueno Park. This park is one of the biggest and is right next to a lot of main museums, including the Toyko National Museum. Personally, we found the parks more interesting. There are plenty of temples and food stalls set up in the park complex during the cherry blossom season. The centrepiece of the park is the wide walkway with cherry blossoms adorning either side as you walk through. Good luck taking pictures. There are selfie sticks everywhere. You literally queue for a good picture spot. Also expect lots of people wanting their pictures with you. No matter how uninterested you might be in photography, in Japan you feel almost compelled to use a camera. You become an Instagram Sheep. An Insta-Lamb (I’m not apologising for that).

Ueno Park band

 

Kichijoji Park
The park is actually called Inokashira Park, near Kichijoji station. Also, yes – all places and names in Japan are like this (remember they have their own alphabet), so having someone write them down for you or doing a bit of research beforehand can help a LOT. Kichijoji is also where the Studio Ghibli Museum is, but you must already have pre-booked tickets and they sell fast. There’s usually a two-week wait, minimum.

Walking from the station to the park you pass a few streets with beautiful cafés and boutique shops that are well worth investigating. Get yourself some Matcha Ice-Cream! At the park, the best thing to do is hire a row boat and go out on the lake. Cherry Blossoms hang over into the water all around the perimeter. You know what’s more beautiful than cherry blossoms? Cherry blossoms on water!

The privilege of water means that taking photos is far less restricting. Hundreds of petals float on top of the lake, swirling like dancing confetti. I realise that some of you right now may be slightly scoffing at the Disneyland fairy tale I’m portraying; perhaps even doubting my manliness, so here is a picture to rectify that.

Ueno Park
Moving on.

Shinjuku Gyoen Park
Probably the most objectively beautiful was Shinjuku Gyoen Park (although Kichijoji is still my fave). It is nice for a stroll and to relax on the lawn facing the lake. We actually came here as the cherry blossoms were starting to fall, which is EVEN MORE beautiful than when they’re in full bloom; it’s like pink snow floating from the trees and settling on the lawn in a wondrous land of magic.

Cherry blossom petals start falling only days after blooming, so timing is everything. Don’t relax in the park for too long though like we did if you want to see it all, the park is bigger than it might initially seem and there are lots of different sections to explore, including a nice lake. Most parks in Japan will close around five in the evening.

Kichi blossoms

Other Parks

Other noteworthy mentions are the Hama-Rikyu Park, which is near the Tsukiji Fish Market, which unfortunately moved location late last year after we had visited. Still, in the park there’s a walkway through Rapeseed flowers, oriental style bridges over ponds, cool-looking trees and MORE Cherry Blossoms. This park is filled with less common types than a lot of other parks (that’s right, there are different types of cherry blossoms), that bloom slightly later than the others. From Hama-Rikyu, there is a boat that takes you from the harbour down the river into Asakusa in about 45 minutes, one of the most popular areas for tourists visiting Tokyo. The boat takes you under infinite bridges and gave us quite a nice view of the Skytree, which I was told is the second largest man made building in the world, behind that tower in Dubai (you know the one). You can also buy beer on the boat. Cherry Blossom beer.

Hama Rikyu

 

There is also Yoyogi Park in central Toyko; more of a wooded area than a typical park, which although is lacking in cherry blossoms (shock horror), does have a very serene and well-placed Shrine inside the park and was a cheeky surprise for us when went in. Although we should have known; the only thing Japan likes more than gardens and cherry blossoms is shrines.

You’re probably thinking this is getting a bit much now, I’ve gone a bit too cutesy; that I’m completely rearranging my life to become a freelance botanist who only works one month a year to tour Japan and take endless pictures of cherry blossoms, whilst caressing myself naked in an infinite pool of cherry blossoms like some American Beauty scenario. Well, you’re wrong; I checked and that job has already been taken and the guy doesn’t seem like he’s giving it up anytime soon, so STOP BRINGING UP THIS DELICATE SUBJECT OF MY UNFULFILLED DESIRES, PLEASE!

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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Best time to go: Cherry Blossom season is called the Sakura Season in Japan and is heavily dependent on weather, so there won’t be any way of knowing exact dates until around January of the same year at the earliest. However, going at a time anywhere from late March to Mid-April you can almost guarantee to see them.
It is also important to note that there are over 200 different varieties of cherry blossom, which come out at different times in the season. The season also arrives in different places in Japan at different times, starting in the south and moving northwards. They can open as early as January on the southern islands and as late as May on the northern islands. If you are planning on following them as they rise up the country in bloom, then it is best to consider this in your route. Generally, the cherry blossoms bloom in Kyoto first and then Tokyo afterwards.
Accommodation: Book early! Japanese culture loves organisation and even hostels can be booked up months in advance. During the cherry blossom season, prices also rise in hostels, so it can be more beneficial to seek other options. We stayed in an AirBnB in an area on the outskirts of Tokyo called Nippori, which I would highly recommend. It’s walking distance to Ueno Park and all of its museums, as well as having a great food market, bars and restaurants to explore.
Getting around: Directions are not easy in Tokyo. In the centre, every street looks the same: loads of indeterminable flashing neon symbols. Save yourself an argument or two and buy a Sim card, you can get ones that last around a month for a relatively good price. Or download maps.me, essentially an app that is a fully functioning Google Maps which works offline. Google Maps becomes your worst enemy when you land in Japan and find that all the place names on your phone are in the Japanese alphabet and the only thing you only know how say to people is “Sayonara”. Also, Japan doesn’t have street names; they denote address by using the intersections of streets (which IF you can figure it out, actually makes quite a lot of sense).
Be prepared to be slightly confused when working in the Japanese language. Public transport is very convenient for tourists, but supermarkets and places selling other accessories become more of a game of “Is this milk or yoghurt?”. Pro-tip: their milk comes in bags mostly.
What to pack:  Dress appropriately. Despite the cherry blossoms culturally advocating the start of spring, don’t expect blue skies and sunshine. It can be quite cold so bring some warm clothes just in case.

Blake Anderson James

Blake Anderson James started moving between countries from the age of fourteen and has been inspired by travel ever since. He spent a season living and travelling through South East Asia; he has explored South America and journeyed through most of Europe. He is an adventurous soul who enjoys activities such as scuba diving and anything that his body and budget will endure. If his humour is not evident enough from his writings, look out for him in the flesh because he loves to practice stand-up comedy whenever he gets an opportunity.

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