Ueno park ohanami
Ohanami is the honorific form of the word hanami, which is Japanese for flower viewing, Ohanami refers to the viewing festival of the cherry blossom. The flowers of the peach and plum trees are also observed, but pale in comparison to the popularity of the cherry blossom.
But why is this flower, and festival surrounding it, venerated? Cherry blossom viewing is the time that marks the official beginning of spring. Many times visitors wonder why the Japanese make such a big deal about a picnic under beautiful trees but it’s not just another walk in the park.
For Japanese people Ohanami mirrors the ephemeral nature of life and its fleeting beauty. Many residents are not originally from Tokyo so at places like Ueno Park, it is a time to remember the Ohanami in their hometowns, think about family and friends or even past lovers, or reflect on what is important in life. Each person has a very personal, nostalgic Ohanami history.
This year's festival is from March 21 to April 7 depending largely on the weather and when the Somei-yoshino variety of cherry tree blooms. This variety is cultivated so all the trees bloom at one time under the same conditions, and make up about half of the 1000 trees in the park. They grow very quickly, have 5 petal flowers, and bloom before their leaves sprout, covering the whole tree. The buds take about 7-10 days to fully bloom. In Japanese this is called mankai.
Some trees grow to be 20 meters horizontally making for a very impressive display. The trees resemble huge cloud-like formations and the petals fall like snow. There are also many other varieties of trees in Ueno park, providing the viewer with a variety of colors and shapes of flowers. At night, between 5 and 8pm, about 1000 lanterns light up the trees for night viewing which is called yozakura.
The most impressive area to view the trees in Ueno Park is called Sakura Lane which stretches from Shinobazu pond, at the south-eastern end of the park, to the museums. Historically this is the former grounds of the Kaneiji temple of the Tokugawa Shogun.
The location for the temple was chosen because the pond represented lake Biwako, which was the location for Enryakuji Temple in Kyoto that overlooks lake Biwako, which was Kaneiji’s model. The grounds of Kaneiji Temple were nearly completely destroyed during the Boshin war between the Tokugawa Shogun and the Meiji government. After the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun, the area was designated as Japan’s 1st western-style public park in 1873, encouraged by the Dutch Medical doctor, Dr. Anthonius Franciscus Bauduin (1820-1885). There have been trees here since the 17th century in the Edo period, but more were planted along Sakura Lane in 1969.
Another unique area for cherry blossom viewing is around the Ueno Tōshō-gū shinto shrine, which enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun and hero known for being the great unifier of Japan. The shrine has stayed mostly intact even through wars and earthquakes. The shrine has an impressive gate in the Karamon style (Chinese style), and is adorned with gold foil making it an impressive photo opportunity with the sakura in full bloom. The pillars of the gate are adorned by two dragons that are fabled to drink together every night at Shinobazu pond.
Ueno Park is one of the the most popular and crowded places in Tokyo for Ohanami, and attracts about 2 million people. You will see many people sitting on plastic mats eating, drinking and pondering the meaning of life as well as playing music, singing, and laughing with friends and family, or simply enjoying a private moment. Some people bring elaborate setups with tables and chairs and others prefer to bring nothing. Sometimes you will see people setting up tarps or tape the night before to reserve an area. Many times there are very large groups of friends or work associates who gather. There are food stalls, or yatai in Japanese, set up to enjoy typical Japanese festival foods like yakitori, yakisoba, Japanese beer, and many other goods on hand to enhance the experience. Events are held at the fountain and an antique market near the Shinobazu pond.
Ueno park has many other things do including museums, a zoo, ponds, and shrines. Remember it will be crowded so please plan accordingly. But don't be concerned, this is not rush hour so the crowds are cheerful, and everyone is having a great time. It's probably the biggest party of the season, and anyone and everyone is invited. It is extremely convenient and easily accessed. The park can be accessed in 2 minutes from Ueno station by the JR local and Shinkansen trains, Metro line, and Keisei line at Ueno Park station.
Location: Ueno Park Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo
The following clip illustrates the cherry blossoms and of Ueno park. You can also see some of what Ueno park and the surrounding Taito ward have to offer. Please have a look!