TOKYO – Tokyo residents and tourists filled the city’s streets and parks on Friday to enjoy the full bloom of the capital’s cherry blossoms, an annual event in Japan that marks the beginning of spring.
A week after the appearance of the first flower buds, thousands of people celebrated the sakura (Japanese for cherry blossom), which fills the landscape with pastel shades of pink and white.
Many flocked to the central Chiyoda district to walk under the cherry trees of Chidorigafuchi, one of the most picturesque parts of the city, known for its 700-meter-long (2,300 feet) tunnel of sakura.
Others opted for a boat ride amid flowers surrounding the Edo-era moat in the northwestern area of the Tokyo Imperial Palace.
There were no lack of selfies and photo sessions among tourists and locals as they sought to stamp their presence on the colorful scenery through the lens of a camera.
As with every year, the Cherry Festival held at the Shinto Yasukuni Shrine filled a large avenue with kiosks selling street food.
In the grounds of the shrine is the “index tree” that the Japan Meteorological Agency uses to determine the start of sakura, which this year arrived five days earlier than usual, on March 21.
The cherry trees’ flowering period, which occurs between the end of March and the beginning of April, not only symbolizes the arrival of spring but also coincides with the starts of the school year and the business year, when university graduates begin their first jobs.
During this period, which barely lasts two weeks, the parks are filled with people who gather to celebrate hanami, or the Japanese tradition of admiring the beauty of the blooms.
Groups of friends, families and colleagues as well as couples crowd the lawns enjoying picnics that can go on for hours and usually involve large amounts of food and drink.
The celebrations do not always end at sunset, and the most iconic places of the city become hotspots for yozakura, or the celebration of hanami at night.
Every year, sakura attracts an increasing number of tourists, who time their vacations to Japan to coincide with this natural phenomenon.
Businesses also celebrate the event, offering hanami packages that range from food packed in traditional bento boxes to sakura-flavored drinks, as well as decorations and cutlery used for these feasts.
The sakura craze is aided by mobile apps showing the best places to enjoy the best views of the cherry trees and suggesting the closest such places to a user’s location.
Cherry blossom enthusiasts now begin a race against time to enjoy the beauty of these flowers as much as possible before rain and winds wipe away the mesmerizing colors until next spring.