Get Ready, It’s Sakura Time!
By Lisa Hong
Cherry Blossoms, or Sakura, aren’t just a sight to be seen – they’re an experience to be had. “Hanami” seems to be a fitting word during the Sakura season, for it means the act of enjoying these lovely flowers. The few precious days, when the blossoms are at their peak, are filled with fluffy white-petaled trees, lively chatter on the normally solemn trains, deliciously prepared picnic parties, and brightly-lit smiles as people walk among the whimsical trees. You feel a surge of excitement all around you (it helps that day drinking becomes accepted and expected), and you are grateful to be a part of it.
From late-March to early-April, people in Toyko are blessed with gorgeous sites to enjoy Sakura. This year’s Hanami will be even more accessible with Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi app which allows you to find free Wi-Fi hot spots in Japan. Both visitors and residents can effortlessly find the best locations for this Hanami season!
Sumida River, Asakusa Station on the Toei, Tobu, and Tokyo Metro Line
Closeby to the widely-visited Asakusa Temple is the Sumida River. Walking along this massive river is a breeze as you are accompanied by beautiful sights – the sun glistening off of the water and Sakura trees lining the riverside. Taking the waterbus on the river is a popular activity, although you will probably need to wait in a long line. If you want to view the cherry blossoms from this boat, I suggest starting at the Hama Rikyu Gardens (300 yen entrance, Shiodome Station on the Oedo Line) and paying for a one-way trip to Asakusa (about 800 yen). You must enter Hama Rikyu to get to the dock, but this Edo period-style garden is beautiful and worth the visit.
Shinjuku Gyoen (Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi available from March 23), JR Shinjuku Station
The great thing about this location is that there are many different kinds of cherry blossom trees planted, so you are sure to find Sakura early or late in the season. This park is clean and well kept, and there are plenty of other plants/flowers to see. Find a blossoming tree to sit under and eat your picnic lunch, but keep in mind that alcohol is not allowed and your bag is (respectfully) searched upon entrance. However, if you are looking for tranquility to take a break from the busy city, and enjoy some free Wi-Fi, this is a perfect getaway. Open from 9am-4:30pm, 200 yen entrance fee.
Meguro River, Nakameguro Station on the Tokyu and Tokyo Metro Line
This river is much smaller than the Sumida River, but its location along a hip residential neighborhood and the way the trees hug the sides of the river make for a truly pleasant walk. Make plans to be here at dusk so you can view the blossoms light up by pick-orange lanterns (This night-time Sakura viewing is called “Yozakura”). Cafes and food stands can be found along the path.
Tokyo Midtown (Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi Spot), Roppongi Station on the Oedo Line
Here you can enjoy Hanami in a trendy, urban setting with a seasonal outdoor lounge, serving sparkling wine, to celebrate this jovial time. The streets are lined with Sakura trees that shine at night with sparkling lights. Restaurants offer special menu items, and other events and exhibits can be found around. Shoppers can also enjoy free Wi-Fi in the shopping areas.
Chidori Ga Fuchi, Kudanshita Station on the Tokyo Metro and Toei Line
This is my favorite spot for Hanami. Sakura trees are planted for miles amidst the backdrop of the outer Imperial Palace walls. Adding to the splendor, you see people row boats along a grand moat, which has cherry blossom tree branches draping into the water. What’s more amazing is when the blossoms start to flutter off of the branches like snow flurry, also known as “Hana Fubuki”. The petals gather to create fantastic swirls on top of the water. The trees are lit up at night, but the the whole scene at Chidori Ga Fuchi is best during the day, as it is utterly dramatic, romantic, and inspiring.
Yoyogi Park, JR Harajuku Station
Hanami doesn’t always have to be peaceful or romantic. Head to Yoyogi Park for the party scene! During this time, the park is bustling with friends, college students, and colleagues who revel in good food and drink! The crowd is bustling and boisterous; the best scene is watching people play silly, outlandish drinking games. This is a great spot to have fun and let loose under the blooming Sakura!
Ueno Park, Ueno Station on the JR and Tokyo Metro Line
The trees here are densely planted, so when the cherry blossoms reach full bloom, you walk under a canopy of Sakura-filled clouds. Ueno Park rightfully draws a big crowd of meanderers and picnickers, for this place is covered with cherry blossoms. Many Yatai, or food stands, can be found so bring your appetite! Stay into the evening as the flowers are lit up by the soft glow of lanterns.
As you enjoy your Sakura-filled days, remember to keep Tokyo clean; trash bins are located in popular areas for the convenience of picnickers. Take lots of photos of these fleeting blossoms, but don’t forget to savor the wonder of Hanami, for its essence is harder to capture.