Spring was officially sprung in Tokyo. The weather is getting warmer and warmer, the sun stays longer; scarves and jackets were neglected. It is the perfect time to head outside.
If you are in Tokyo at this moment, you probably notice the gazillion sakura- themed products brought by the cherry blossom season everywhere. Yes, the cherry blossom is back, right on time this year. There are many other flowers that bloom in spring as well, but the cherry blossom or ”sakura” in Japanese is considered the most popular and most loved flower by the locals. The word "hanami" (花見)is a many centuries old Japanese tradition of flower viewing, and the "flower" in most cases always means cherry blossom.
There are cherry blossom forecasts on television shows, newspapers and websites for people to carefully check for peak bloom forecasts with up to date pictures by region. The cherry blossom is a flower with such a special significance.
Thus, in Tokyo, ton of the cherry trees were planted almost everywhere from hundreds of shrines, temples, gardens and public parks. The city has many great spots for cherry blossom viewing. This year I decided to go to Nakameguro because I never been there before and I always fascinated with images of pale pink petals of cherry blossom swaying on the crystal clear water of the Meguro River. And today I made it, maybe a little bit too soon. They were not yet in full bloom but beautiful enough to keep me happy.
The Meguro River used to be an important water resource for farming in the area. The river used to be very narrow and really shallow, hence frequently caused floods. So during the 1980s they decided to widen the river to lower the risk of flooding. Then cherry trees were first planted to celebrate the day the project done and also to improve the landscape of the river. Later, more cherry trees were added several times over decades. Now, Nakameguro is a home to more than 800 of cherry trees lined stretch along the quiet Meguro River.
The Somei Yoshino Cherry Tree
Most of the cherry trees planted along this river are the Somei Yoshino cherry trees, a type of cherry blossom that makes more than 80 percent of cherry blossom growing in Japan. There are two main reasons why they are so popular. The first is that the leaves won't show up until after full bloom. So it's easier to view the flowers as the foliage won't get in the way, giving a stunning homogeneous look of the tree for the viewers. The other reason that I found is the Somei Yoshino cherry tree has more rapid growth rate than other species. They will be full grown and start to bloom at about 10 years old.
To be honest I used to like the dark pink cherry blossom better, but today the image of a canopy of cherry blossom that formed a flowery roof over the sparkling river did mesmerize me. Looking from far away, the flowers just painted the sky in pink. It was so amazingly gorgeous. I love the Somei Yoshino cherry tree.
Hanami Along the Meguro River
The usually calmer Meguro gets busier and wider on the cherry blossom season and today was no exception. The neighborhood packed with local residents and tourists. There were families, groups of teenagers, 30- something sophisticated couples and groups of coworkers. Many were busying taking pictures, some were strolling along the river; others were drinking and got drunk right under the trees. Anyway, comparing with other sakura viewing venues, the space for picnic and “flower party” here was pretty limited.
During the hanami matsuri , there were numerous street stalls, yatai(屋台), lined up on the riverside offering staple matsuri foods like takoyaki (crispy octopus balls), yakisoba, taiyaki (fish shaped waffles filled with addicting sweet red bean paste), kebab and such. They are great to snack on as you walk along the river.
The most popular snack was probably Hanami Dango, tri color Japanese rice dumplings traditionally eaten during the sakura viewing season.
Viewing Sakura at Night
After sunset, during the festival, the cherry trees on the Meguro will be lit up brilliantly with hundreds of small paper lanterns covering the entire river with an alluring rose gold color. The soft diffused light granted a very vague yet beautiful makeup to the delicate tiny flowers, turning an already beautiful sakura into an absolutely elegant blossom. Just strolling along the river, viewing the sakura at night would make your journey to Japan really rewarding.
What Else to Do in the Neighborhood?
With many tiny trendy shops, new bakeries, stylish cafes, contemporary galleries and night bars along the river, the place worth at least a brief detour. I recommends you to start with Johann, a renowned bake shop specializes in New York cheesecake. You may buy a slice of sumptuous homemade cheesecake to enjoy later on. But, if you're with kids and want Tokyo the next destination for an educational trip, visit a free Meguro Parasitological Museum, the world's only parasite museum, and don't miss River Museum of Meguro, another major attraction of the area.