After living in Japan, seeing autumn foliage in background, and plum blossoms in foreground is a confusing mix of seasons. In California, there’s a wet and a dry season, with little temperature difference from month to month. It’s odd to see both plants from 2 season regions like the Mediterranean, South Africa, and Australia, and also from 4 season regions.
These photos are from this year’s rather cold cherry blossom season, which meant easier access to some of the best spots. I love the difference in scale between the old trees and the people they attract. I also love how prepared the city is to manage the expected crowds of tree lovers.
I love this elegant cherry tree in bloom at a highway rest stop. In the background, you can see a row of cherry trees lining the highway. I am rarely a car passenger in Japan, but I was my in-laws on a day trip last weekend.
In the United States, highway rest stops have a bad reputation: dirty, few food options, insufficient toilets, and an atmosphere of decrepitude and crime. In Japan, they are immaculate, constantly renovated, over-supplied with clean toilets, food options that rival a large mall, and endless rows of souvenir edible gifts for people you will visit or for friends and family back home.
The road through Aoyama Cemetery is lined with gorgeous old cherry trees. I went there for AQ‘s office hanami party, and on the way home I took this photo at twilight.
This temple in Shinjuku’s Ni Chome is a quiet open space in a crowded part of the city. It’s a great juxtaposition of the sacred and ordinary, nature and the built environment.
This day, the cherry tree in bloom seems to have enticed more people to enter. I am always charmed by the red cloth bibs place on buddha and ojizo statues. The bibs make me think the statues are preparing for a meal.
I had never seen a highball, or a whiskey and soda, in a can before coming to Japan. Here Suntory has dressed up the can for cherry blossom viewing.
Winter provides a glimpse into this small Showa-era garden. Close to the house is a plum tree in bloom. Bordering the new development are evergreen plants including bamboo and the shuro palm.
When it snows, it seems as if Tokyo is a city of black and white. Recently I posted a photo of this plum tree at night. Just as the blossoms are peaking, thick gobs of snow magnify the tree’s shape.
Leap Day, 2012.
In Tokyo I am getting re-adjusted to four seasons. In California there’s a wet and dry season. Oddly, in San Francisco, many dry winter days are warmer than the fog-bound summer. Tokyo’s four seasons are like the Atlantic Coast of the US. I have childhood memories of this area.
It’s been so cold in Tokyo recently that I am hibernating. Each year I look forward to seeing this plum blossom in February. You can find this tree along a pedestrian path leading to Nakano station.
The big cherry blossom sites, including Inokashira park, Yoyogi park and Yasukuni shrine, are wonderful places for get-togethers with outdoor drinking and eating. But I also love seeing the cherry trees in full bloom while walking around the city. This old cherry tree is blooming on a small street, with the Nakano high rise telecom tower in the background.
I also love how every public school has at least one cherry tree at the entrance; the elementary school nearby has a dusty soccer field surrounded on three side by gorgeous cherries.
Note: For the next days, I’ll post some garden pictures I took in the weeks before the earthquake. These are images from the end of winter.
Spiraea cantoniensis (コデマリ or kodemari in Japanese) makes lovely snow blossoms in winter. I like how it looks equally good as a rambling, woody bush, or as a small balcony plant.
Although this species is most diverse in East Asia, according to Wikipedia, Native Americans have used it as an aspirin-like medicine.
My friend Matt sent me this intricate sakura weather map: it shows the updated forecast for the start of cherry blossoms across the Japanese archipelago. Even if you can’t read Japanese, it’s impressive to see how much weather forecasting amplifies cherry blossom season.
Today I also heard from Twitter’s @Matt_Alt that there are big signs at Inokashira park Big asking visitors to refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties there. This is one of Tokyo’s most famous parks, and one of the most popular places for young people to celebrate spring with all night and all day drinking parties.
It’s now just over two weeks after the horrific natural and man-made disaster that began with the East Japan great earthquake. With looming energy shortages, national mourning for the dead, and continued fears about nuclear fallout, Tokyo life will not be the same. Yet it is still impossible to fully know what will emerge in the coming months and years.
Will these events increase or reverse Japan’s hyper-urbanization? How will people respond to new concerns about food and water safety? Can the government and industry regain trust and provide leadership? How can civil society contribute to rebuilding the country and restoring Japan’s international reputation?
And can public spaces and local businesses flourish in a time of anxiety and uncertainty?
The Saipan lemon tree I planted on my balcony last year is full of blowers: what a great scent, and hope for future lemons. I have been doing a lot of gardening now that the weather has gotten warmer: planting seedlings, buying vegetable starters, trying out a new coconut husk soil, purchasing a few large flowers and shrubs, and generally filling up the balcony with plants, flowers, and dreams. I’ll be posting more photos soon.
Tokyo has had a strange April. Last Friday there was hail. I was surprised to hear a squishy sound beneath my shoes. Will winter never end? Fortunately, it is now a bit warmer, and I managed to pot up all the small plants I bought for my balcony garden: columbine, two types of jasmine, some yellow button flowers, a clover, and a small purple green vine.
The cherry blossoms ended suddenly with the rain and wind: briefly, the trees are redder as just the flower stems remain, and then suddenly the trees start leafing out. As soon as cherry blossoms pass, dogwood opens up.
Tokyo has a lot of dogwood trees, which come from the mid-Atlantic of the United States. The tree represents a cultural exchange between nations, with Japan providing Washington D.C. with monumental cherry trees, and the United States offering Japan dogwood. It’s strange that many Tokyo residents do not know the origin or significance of dogwood trees. They remind me of my childhood in Baltimore.