Always expect the unexpected?
It looked like we hit the jackpot when the sakura forcasts started rolling in: full bloom expected on 30 Mar to 1 Apr. Wasn’t that perfect timing? We’d be in town 26 Mar to 1 Apr.
So I was expecting something like this.
Instead, we got these.
And this. Though this one wasn’t as bad because there were at least some flowers on the branches.
Fnally, the last ditch attempt.
I hate to admit it, but we missed the jackpot completely.
When there’s “nothing”, we were forced to look harder. And “nothing” turned out to be rather good.
Having less blossoms made it easier to focus on the quiet beauty of the few that had bloomed.
There were one or 2 trees that blossomed quite spectacularly but that also meant we had to deal with the crowd. Crowds, as you know, tended to be pesky, oblivious, obstinate, always in the way and camera. Not the most cooperative, or elegant of props.
There were also some that bloomed quietly on the side so the only ones gawking were the lucky few who happened to pass by.
It doesn’t have to be you
With the sakura plan completely foiled, we needed to occupy ourselves with other distractions. Overall, it became quite a fruitful outing.
I finally found the shelter that was featured in the anime film, Garden of Words. this was the film that led me to Shinjuku Gyoen. I hadn’t known there was a garden like this and would never have imagined that there was such a large expanse of green in the midst of a densely built-up urban district.
Even the super touristy Asakusa was looking good on a brilliant day. But really, I won’t be going there again unless I needed practice getting used to being crushed.
We managed to sneak in a stopover @ Shibuya to see the much vaunted Shibuya crossing, following this excellent tip from wowsabi.
And also strolled through that bridge that connected excel hotel to Shibuya station. It was a good place to watch the crowd flow.
What it should have been
Ideally, if all the planets were aligned and the weather was perfect and the sakuras bloom as scheduled, all I need was one day to cover all my favourite sakura spots.
Start with Nakameguro. go very early, like right after day break say 630am or 7am.
Then, move on to Chidorigafuchi. Alight at Kudanshita station, take exit 2. If there’s enough time, you may want to cross the road/bridge over to Yasukuni shrine.
After that head, to Shinjuku Gyoen (entrance fee 200 yen). I recommend entering via the Sendagaya Gate as it is far less crowded and you would be greeted immediately by the big sakura trees clustered there.
When you are done with Shinjuku Gyoen, make your way to Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi. I imagine it would be lovely to walk along the sakura-lined boulevard in its park.
Come night, go back to where you started – Nakameguro. by now the crowds would have swelled 10-fold and all the makeshift stores will be out. Soak in the lights and the festive atmosphere. grab some food and drinks while you walk down the river.
Here’s how Nakameguro looked like on an early April morning. It was nice and quiet.
Drinking pink champagne has almost become a Hanami ritual, even at 8am on a sunday. This shop was Marzac 7. It’s a wine Shokudo so I suppose they served food too. Unless they meant their food was wine (I’m kidding, they served food).
There’s not many a middle-aged man who could carry off a pastel pink cardigan with style and aplomb. He’s hard to miss.
We went back to Shinjuku Gyoen. 4 days after our first visit, It was looking quite different with splashes of pink here and there. Not full bloom still but this would have to do.
I enjoyed walking the non-sakura-ed parts of the garden because no sakuras = no crowd.
I understood why the Tokyoites left their houses enmass to bask under the sun. The days preceding had been rainy and cold, almost depressing. The sun, coupled with the sakuras was a wonderful respite. You could literally feel the spirits rising.
The garden forbade consumption of alcohol so it was tamer, saner and quieter even though it was packed to the brim. Quite unlike Ueno or Yoyogi.
Additional sakura itineraries
If there’s more time, I’d spend another day covering the rest of the sakura hotspots in Tokyo, starting with Mozen Nakacho station. Apparently there are rows of cherry trees lined along the canal behind the station. Next, take a train to Honjo-Azumabashi station and walk to Sumida Park (6 mins). Get an impromptu breakfast from one of the snack stands next to the river. After that, hop over to Ueno. Ueno will be full of party-goers, picnickers and people-watchers. It’s not uncommon to hear bursts of rambunctious laughter and bump into a drunk here and there. Ueno done, take a train to Komagome station. It’s 1 minute walk to Rikugien (300 yen) which is renowned for its weeping cherry trees.
If there’s so much time and you’re not already suffering from sakura-fatigue, try Inokashira Park (Inokashira Koen station). The park is almost next to the Ghibli museum so if museums are your thing, you can spend a day in that area and round it off with a Wagyu beef dinner at Satou Steakhouse.
When the night has come
During Hanami season, most of the sakura hotspots will be adorned with rows of light and illuminated come night. Personally, I’m not a fan of night-time sakura viewing. The litted trees may look sparkly and dramatic, but I can’t see the sakuras properly and that can hardly be called Hanami. But that’s just me.
Here’s some shots from Chidorigafuchi at night.
Here’s one of Nakameguro from 2 years back.
That wrapped up our sakura adventure. It wasn’t a very successful outing but we came, and we saw.
To really hit the jackpot, the best time to go would still be during the 1st or 2nd week of April. Once you have decided, all you need to do is leave the rest to fate.
Visited 26 March – 2 April 2017