Japan is famous for its spring cherry blossom, although seasonal variation and its popularity make it difficult to see as a tourist. I think visiting as a tourist would also run the risk of being underwhelming. What makes the sakura special is way it completely transforms and dominates the urban landscape. Run-of-the-mill parks and canals, deprived by winter of any colour, are suddenly a riotous shade of pink and white. A few weeks later, the palette is a normal green. What was also unclear to me prior to experiencing it, is that sakura is a seasonal festival, not just a natural phenomenon. Shops and cafés produce seasonal specialities, and viewing the sakura is an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy some tasty street food with friends and family, perhaps washed down with sparkling wine and strawberries.
Like most parts of the world, spring is an unreliable season in Japan. The best days are comparable to fine English summer’s day, the worst are wet like the other type of English summer’s day. (It is unsurprising to me that strawberries are also in season in Japan at the moment.) Some fine weather in early March led to an early blossom, but this was then followed by two weeks of wind and rain, and some were predicting that the petals might be blown and washed away before there was a proper chance to enjoy it. However the day before we left for Hokkaido we were blessed with a perfect day of warm sunshine and we headed to the near-by area of Nakameguro which is reputed to be one of the best spots for enjoying the blossom.
Arriving mid-morning there was already a buzzy atmosphere. While it is a popular spot, everyone is here for for the same thing—a relaxed promenade, while eating, drinking and taking photographs—it was still very pleasant. Somehow the number of people enhanced the experience rather than detracted from it—sakura is something better enjoyed with others, not alone.