While They Were Sleeping

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.

Ueno park, 28 Mar 15

And this.

Ueno park, 28 Mar 15

Or this.

Nakameguro river, 27 Mar 15

Instead, we got these.

Bare branches, Shinjuku Gyoen, 28 Mar 17

And this.

More bare branches, outside Kitanomarukoen, 29 Mar 17

And these.

An entire row of bare trees, Chidorigafuchi, 29 Mar 17

2 rows of the same here, Nakameguro, 29 Mar 17

Just a few blossoms, Chidorigafuchi, 29 Mar 17

And this. Though this one wasn’t as bad because there were at least some flowers on the branches.

Tokyo Midtown, 29 Mar 17

Fnally, the last ditch attempt.

Yaesu street, off Tokyo station, Yaesu exit. 29 Mar 17

I hate to admit it, but we missed the jackpot completely.

Something good 

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.

Shinjuku Gyoen, 28 Mar 17

Shinjuku Gyoen, 28 Mar 17

Shinjuku Gyoen, 28 Mar 17

Shinjuku Gyoen, 28 Mar 17

Shinjuku Gyoen, 28 Mar 17

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.

Centre of attraction, Shinjuku Gyoen, 28 Mar 17

All the big guns are out in action

There were also some that bloomed quietly on the side so the only ones gawking were the lucky few who happened to pass by.

At a sidewalk, Nakameguro, 29 Mar 17

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.

Willow tree and bridge, Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen

Taiwanese pavilion, Shinjuku Gyoen

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.

Garden of Words shelter

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.

Main gate, Asakusa

Just look at that crowd

And this one – queuing to pray before entering the main temple

We managed to sneak in a stopover @ Shibuya to see the much vaunted Shibuya crossing, following this excellent tip from wowsabi.

shibuya crossing, from 25th floor of shibuya excel hotel

And also strolled through that bridge that connected excel hotel to Shibuya station. It was a good place to watch the crowd flow.

Shibuya crossing, from the link bridge

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.

Nakameguro, 2 Apr 17

Early risers, Nakameguro, 2 Apr 17

Nakameguro, 2 Apr 17

More blossoms


Another section

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).

Champagne at your service, 8am, Nakameguro

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.

Farewell shot @ Meguro river, 2 Apr 17

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.

Another one has bloomed, 2 Apr 17

Shinjuku Gyoen, 2 Apr 17

Still the centre of attraction, 2 Apr 17

I enjoyed walking the non-sakura-ed parts of the garden because no sakuras = no crowd.

A quieter path, 2 Apr 17

White ones, 2 Apr 17

The one next to the weeping willow, 2 Apr 17

Bridge, Shinjuku Gyoen, 2 Apr 17

From the bridge

Finally showing their true colours, 2 Apr 17

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.

picnickers, shinjuku gyoen, 2 apr 17

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.

not a single spot unoccupied, shinjuku gyoen, 2 apr 17

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.

Picnickers, Ueno Park 1 Apr 17

Ueno, 1 Apr 17

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.

chidorigafuchi, 1 apr 17

That’s Tokyo Tower in the distance

Athough not fully bloomed, you can’t discern that much at night

Here’s one of Nakameguro from 2 years back.

Dusk, Nakameguro, 27 Mar 15

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

Categories: Japan

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