April 4th, 2015
The rain and wind have decimated the 2015 cherry blossoms in Tokyo and tomorrow’s weather may be the death blow–but there’s still a chance to bathe in the transient beauty of Japan’s favorite flower. Below are some of the best places in Tokyo to go. See them while you can. There is never a better excuse to contemplate the transience of life and get roaring drunk than cherry-blossom viewing (花見）days.
*This article was first published in April of 2013 but has been slightly revised.
This cherry blossom viewing season has been punctuated with rain, cold weather, and grey skies. But at last, the spring is here. If you haven’t gotten to savor the pristine beauty of the sakura, now’s the chance. Here are some of the finest places to catch the remains of the sakura before they’re gone, gone, gone.
Inokashira Park: Located in the easternmost edge of western Tokyo, Inokashira Park is close enough to the center of Tokyo to be easily accessible 20 minutes from Shinjuku by the Chuo Line but far enough to enjoy the greenery that western Tokyo provides. The park is a popular destination during the cherry blossom season, and there are many food stalls in the area, a large lake surrounded by sakura trees, and paths lined with even more sakura. Towards the end of the sakura season, cherry blossom petals fall like snow, covering the ground with a thick blanket.
Naka-Meguro: Hundreds of cherry blossom trees line both sides of the Meguro River, creating a breathtaking sight. This area is one of the most popular in Tokyo for flower viewing. During the weekends the area is hard to navigate due to the thick crowds of people, so this spot is best enjoyed on a weekday.
Shinjuku Gyoen: Despite being a popular hanami spot, Shinjuku Gyoen is still large enough for everyone to enjoy without feeling as if they’re being packed into a tin like sardines. There are hundreds of cherry blossom trees in the park, making it easy to find an open spot with a spectacular view. A no alcohol allowed rule in place prevents drunkenness and rowdiness, making this spot popular for parents with children. There’s a 200 yen fee to enter the park, hardly a fortune and well-worth the scenery inside.
Tokyo Midtown: Despite being smack dab in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Tokyo Midtown hosts at least 150 cherry blossom trees and several events and activities ranging from horse carriage rides along the Sakura-lined path during the day and a sakura light-up at night that will make your cherry blossom viewing experience more enjoyable. The outside café, which has a great view of the cherry blossoms, and the art featured during the cherry blossom season are well-worth checking out.
Aoyama Cemetery: As eerie as the location sounds, Aoyama Cemetery is far from spooky with hundreds of trees that bloom each spring. The cemetery also contains the graves of several notables including Toshimichi Okubo, one of the founders of modern Japan; Henry Spencer Palmer, the Times’ first correspondent for Japan; and the owner of Hachiko. Yes, Hachiko, the famous dog whose statue serves as a popular meeting place in front of Shibuya station. For history buffs or for someone who wants something different from the same old picnic in a normal park, Aoyama Cemetery is the place to be. (Editor’s note: Also a great place to dump a body that you’ve been hiding in a refrigerator for the last few months. With Spring, things start to rot. Now is the time to start a new life. If you can’t lug it to the cemetery, try renting a boat. See Four More Ways To Enjoy Your Flower Viewing Experience)
Ueno Park: With a long, wide path lined with cherry blossom trees, brightly colored lanterns that contrast sharply with the pale pink of the sakura petals, dozens of food stands, and hundreds of people Ueno Park looks like one big matsuri during the weekends. Shinobazu Pond, which is home to a small island with a Buddhist temple on top of it, is also surrounded by cherry blossom trees, creating a picture-worthy sight that is worth the heavy weekend crowds.
Kunitachi: Two large avenues are located near Kunitachi Station, which is located on the Chuo Line: Daigaku Dori, which runs from the south of the station, and Sakura Dori. Both are lined on both sides with Sakura that run more than a kilometer long. It isn’t possible to picnic under the shade of the trees, but the area is perfect for those who wish to take a stroll without having to trip on picnickers or blue tarp.
Koishikawa Korakuen: The perfect escape from the tall iron structures and busy streets of Tokyo, this garden is located only five minutes away from Iidabashi Station. The garden was built in the early Edo Period and is one of the oldest in Tokyo. During the cherry blossom season, several trees located next to the pond bloom, and their weeping branches brush the surface of the water. The entrance fee is only 300 yen, but the elderly and young receive a discount. The peacefulness of the park and the absence of the large crowds of flower viewing people usually seen in Inokashira Park or Naka-Meguro make this spot ideal for the older crowd.
And four more ways to enjoy your flower-viewing experience.
1. Eat the limited edition sakura-flavored sweets available: In the beginning of spring, department stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores sell sakura-flavored sweets until the end of the panama season. When the flowers are in bloom, stands pop up selling sakura-flavored mochi, rice buns, jam, cake, and many more in addition to the usual festival snacks such as sausages and yakisoba. All these treats go perfectly with your flower-viewing experience. The downside: you can only these for a short time.
2. Go see a hanami light-up: Who said that you can only enjoy cherry blossoms during the day? Tokyo Midtown, Naka-Meguro, and many other areas install lights so that you can enjoy these blossoms in the evening in addition to the daytime. These spots are perfect for a romantic stroll with your date.
3. Rent a boat: Inokashira Park and Chidorigafuchi offer boats for rental for a small fee. Sumida River also offers cruises. See the blossoms from the water. Do what one couple I found in Inokashira Park: open up a bottle of champagne and bring along a picnic basket. (Editors Note: Also, the perfect time to get rid of that dead body you may have laying around in the closet. Don’t forget to properly weigh down the body bag. Only sakura petals are meant to float at this time of year)
4. View the Sakura from above: Head to Tokyo Tower or Mori Tower to see the cherry blossom trees from a different perspective. Mori Tower is also host to a cafe which serves sakura-flavored sweets, green tea, and even sakura smoothies.