Tokyo in Blossom

On Friday night we headed to Tokyo for another weekend of fun. Due to the slightly unfortunate timing of my Easter holiday, the I managed to arrive in Tokai before the cherry trees have come into bloom, so we followed advice from the Japan blossom forecast and headed to Ueno, where pink blooms were rumoured to be bursting forth a little earlier in the season.
It takes about and hour and a half to get to Tokyo from Tokai, so I made us a picnic tea to eat on the train, which we washed down with a can of Kirin and followed up with a refreshing little nap (on my part at least!). Ueno is an enormous railway station, but already starting to become comfortingly familiar, and this time it was totally festooned with blossoms. Artificial pink and white blooms hang from every corner, pink and white flags abound, and in the middle of the main entrance is a pair of huge plush pandas sat under an equally huge artificial cherry blossom.

We found our hotel easily from Ueno and after getting settled in, we spent a very pleasant evening in a local izikaya (small Japanese bar), where we feasted on such "bar snacks" as spicy chicken wings and cheese and crackers (a rare treat in Japan).

Saturday dawned mild and sunny, and I bravely donned a summer dress (and tights and cardigan and coat) for my first blossom viewing. Ueno park is right next to the huge railway station, and yet manages what the best city parks do, creating a beautiful oasis somehow separated from and at the same time surrounded by noise and chaos. Despite the earliness of our visit, a few cherry trees were in full beautiful blossom. The Japanese make a real celebration of the start of each new season, and in their Spring festivities they really excel. Under every single cherry tree in Ueno park sat a party of people, of all ages and backgrounds, gathered round on picnic blankets and plastic sheets, celebrating the coming of spring. It is difficult to relate exactly how exciting and joyful the atmosphere is amongst those beautiful trees. The picnics themselves seem to involve a dizzying array of delicious (and less delicious, in my opinion) foods, both hot and cold. Unlike in the UK, when a picnic is either cold finger food or a spontaneous barbecue, in Ueno, the picnickers were eating all sorts of rice snacks, hot soups, fried noodles, even using portable grills to prepare fresh tako-yaki (fried dough balls stuffed with pieces of octopus). The scrumptious smell of the picnics only added to the overall effect.
We wandered down the main corridor of cherry trees, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells, and gradually drifted down towards to the lake in the centre of the park. Here, the path is lined with food stalls, equally delicious-smelling as the picnics. We were enticed to buy a freshly cooked, buttery, salted corn on the cob, and Logan was nearly brave enough to try a whole salted fish on a stick, but sadly I think his appetite let him down at the last minute.

Around the other side of the lake are more cherry trees, along with swan boats and a surprising variety of bird species, again, sadly mostly unfamiliar and as yet unidentified. One species I did recognise however, were the tree sparrows I was lucky enough to feed with rice from my hand! Just like in Central Park, NY and Sydney Park, AUS, in Ueno park there is a lovely eccentric old man who feeds the birds. He spotted us looking on delightedly and offered us some rice to hold out to offer to a flock of surprisingly tame sparrows (in Japanese "suzume"). It was a real highlight of an already magical morning.


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