We were extremely fortunate with the timing of our arrival in Tokyo – at the height of the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) season, which is a really major time of celebration across Japan. Springtime weather in Japan was very cool this year, delaying the arrival of the first cherry blossoms in Tokyo by several weeks from their typical mid-March appearance. In the Japanese culture, the arrival of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) signal the end of winter and the beginning of spring (a re-birth of the spirit as well as agricultural cycles). The one- to two-week short life span of the delicate blossoms also reminds everyone of how fleeting life is and to maximize time with family and friends and the enjoyment of life.
Word has gotten out to the rest of the world about the ephemeral beauty of the short Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) season, so Japan (especially Tokyo and Kyoto, our next destination) get really crowded with foreigners and traveling Japanese in the spring. The major parks and shrines and temples and streets with “Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) “spots” are jam packed (see out photographs, below). This is such a big deal that Google maps highlights “Cherry Blossom Spots” on its detailed maps of Japan (this was very helpful to us!). It is a traditional custom to bring a picnic lunch or dinner and to gather with family and/or friends under the trees and to relax with some sake or beer and enjoy an al fresco meal under the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms). The beauty of the season has been captured by Japanese painters for centuries and the major museums rotate their permanent exhibitions to feature paintings of Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) during this season. Food and drink vendors annually come up with a new Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)-based version of an ice cream, confection, drink, etc. with big signage in the restaurants and stores featuring this year’s specialty. After a few days we, too, came to both appreciate the short-lived beauty of the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) and to understand the near-mania of the collective celebrations of this wonderful herald of spring.
Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, Senso-ji, was completed in 645 and later reconstructed after being destroyed by air raids in 1945. Dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, the temple is usually entered via the iconic Kaminarimon (thunder) Gate. Nakamise Street, lined with small souvenir and snack shops, leads to the second gate and the temple grounds. The temple’s pagoda is currently being renovated and covered by scaffolding, but it had only have a minor impact on visiting the site.