We have just got back from a trip to Japan, the main purpose of which was skiing in Niseko. Being a Type A personality though, I wanted to squeeze as much as I could in to the holiday: we also found the time to torture ourselves with a swift trip to Tokyo Disneyland (utterly rank, but much enjoyed by the small people) and did Tokyo proper for the last three nights before heading home.
Only upon reaching Tokyo did I become obsessed with seeing the sakura – cherry blossom – that has bloomed for the last three years on or very close to 2nd April (we arrived in Tokyo on 8th). Real bucket list stuff, arrive on the 2nd and this is what you can expect:
But like I said, we arrived on 8th and sadly the main variety of blossom i.e. the one you really do want to see – called Someiyoshino (above) – was definitely over. The flowers only last for a week or so and by the time we got there, the trees were starting to grow leaves; some blossom remained, but what you want – the holy grail of cherry blossom chasing – is that fresh, first bud on the very day it unfurls.
Hurrah though for the late blooming Yae Sakura which did the job, although not quite as magnificently as I feel the real deal would have done. We went to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which has a huge amount of them:
Obligatory sakura selfie coming up…
Their inky black trunks and gnarled branches under a carpet of petals is still a pretty breath-taking sight.
Cherry trees of all varieties are also dotted about the city. Here’s the view from our balcony at the Palace Hotel (much recommended and to be included in my Tokyo-à-la-Changmoh city guide which I am slowly but surely writing up).
You can see a lovely line of them to the left.
It’s the sheer volume of trees, clustered together, that makes such a massive impact (there are way more Someiyoshino than there are Yae Sakura). Hotels and banks usually light up any cherry trees near their building with a dappled pink light so that the short-lived flowering can even be enjoyed by night.
Good to know: The blossom season sweeps up Japan, south to north…which means that provided you are not weighed down by ghastly Disneyland trips and children, you can jump on a bullet train for an hour or so and catch it a little further north.
The scoop: We were travelling with a Japanese friend and there is actually a Japanese website that tracks the stages of the blossom everywhere in Japan. Whether it’s in bud, bloom or turning, mapple.net will tell you (get your concierge or Japanese friend to read it though).
Eat it: Tea and cake shops offer delicious sakura flavoured treats throughout the season. Yum! The leaves encasing them are from the blossom trees too.
The alternative: Sack off sakura and come to Japan in the autumn to see the maples turn colour.
Next up on changmoh.com: Niseko’s best local restaurant.