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The Traveller's Magazine
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Japan in springtime is a sight to see. The cherry trees begin to blooming, marking the beginning of a festive season for locals and tourists alike. Japan’s first cherry trees bloomed this week hitting off two months of celebrations, parties and feasts to honour the new season.

The whole country waits patiently for the first blooms to appear on their Sakura trees every year. Once there are enough blooms on the trees the festivals can begin. The cherry trees have a long history in Japan and they can be seen in almost every part of the country. Japanese watch the forecasts very closely to predict and plan for the year’s festivals. Since the blooms only last a short time, the sakura has become a symbol in Japanese culture for death, or a little more lightly, the fleetingness of life. Families and friends gather each year in nearby gardens, temples and parks to appreciate the beauty of the blooms before they are gone.

Viewing the trees is the main attraction but there are also a number of other performing arts displays as well. If you’re in the right place at the right time you might even get an invitation to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony beneath the canopy of these blooming branches, a cultural experience that should not be missed. Hanami is the name for the official tree-viewing in Japanese. You can see many Japanese family sharing a home-cooked meal underneath the trees. There are also food vendors at many of the festivals that sell traditional foods for the region.

sakura tree in Japan
Celebrate spring underneath a sakura tree (sxc)

The cherry trees don’t bloom all at once though. The first trees to bloom are the ones in Okinawa in January while others open in late April, making the spring festivities last for months, giving travellers plenty of opportunities to visit and experience this ancient Japanese celebration. The first festivals took place in the Heian period, around 800 ad, when imperial families, aristocrats, musicians and poets would gather together under the trees to share food, songs and dance to celebrate the changing of the seasons. Today there are day viewings as well as night viewings when all of the trees are lit up with paper lanterns and candles. It is a breath-taking view.

The most popular places to attend tea ceremonies and viewings in Tokyo:

Ueno Onshi Koen

Address: 5-20 Ueno Koen Taito-ku, Tokyo

Access: Ueno Station

Cherry Blossom Festival: March 20 – April 4, 2010 (Evening Time: 5:30 p.m.- 8 p.m.)

Sumida Koen

Address: Mukojima Sumida-ku, Tokyo

Access: Asakusa Station

Cherry Blossom Festival: March 27, 28, April 3, 4, 2010

Chidorigafuchi Koen

Address: 1-2 Kojimachi Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Access: Tokyo Subway Hanzomon Station

Cherry Blossom Festival: March 26 – April 4, 2010

There is no better way to welcome the spring than attending these festivals. Search on for last-minute flights to Tokyo and experience this age-old tradition first hand. Cherry bloom festivals start in late March to early April in Tokyo and last for a couple of weeks.

Itterassyai kiotukete! (meaning: have a nice day! or safe journey!)

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