If there is one thing that Japan is synonymous with, it’s cherry blossoms in spring. The image of Japan in the minds of people from overseas invariably includes cherry blossoms in either a natural or landscape garden setting. The brief window of time in which to view the blossoms at their peak before the petals begin to fall is seen as a metaphor for the transience of life itself.
What makes cherry blossom season the best thing about spring, in my opinion, isn’t the physical beauty of the blossoms themselves. Instead, the magic comes from the atmosphere of the season. People of all ages are out and about, strolling or picnicking under the cherry trees, with their camera and an alcoholic beverage in hand. The mood of the people tends to be one of contentment and wonder. The magic is particularly palpable on days when the skies are cloudless and sunny, with the pale pink contrasting strongly with the expanse of sheer blue.
I have experienced cherry blossom season as far south as Nagasaki and as far north as Tokyo. There is uniformity in the appearance of the blossoms, which are generally all of the Somei Yoshino variety. Nevertheless, there are a number of standout locations that I would like to mention here.
The first of these places is Mount Yoshino, in the rural south of Nara. Renowned as one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan, it is distinguished by being a place where blossoms can be viewed in a natural setting. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more natural setting than an entire mountainside swathed in a vivid pink, which Mount Yoshino resembles at the peak of the season. One has to make the physical effort to walk up to the lookout points on the mountain in order to be rewarded with this view, which is an additional benefit.
The second place that deserves a special mention is Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. In particular, the spring illumination allows us to view cherry blossoms by night, against the backdrop of one of the most iconic temples in Japan.
The third place is Chidorigafuchi in central Tokyo. The stately moat walls of the Imperial Palace allow the cherry blossoms to pop visually. Later in the season, the blossoms fall into the waterway of the moat, transforming it into a gentle pink whirlpool. The sight is further enhanced by rowboats dotting the waterway intermittently.
The final place is Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa. The park has something to offer in every season, but it shines brightest in spring. One area of the park has a large clump of cherry trees, with a sizeable number of rapeseed (nanohana) flowers in the foreground. The contrast of yellow, pink and blue (on a fine day) has a quality akin to a Japanese animated fantasy film.
All in all, cherry blossom season in Japan is when the magic happens. For me, it is impossible to choose between spring and autumn for the title of my favorite season, but the magic is ever present in both.
synonymous (adj.) – an extremely close connection between two things
transience (noun) – the state of only lasting for a short time
palpable (adj.) – a feeling so strong that you seem to feel it physically
swathe (v) – to envelop or cover something completely
intermittently (adv.) – happening often but not regularly