sakura

Some people prefer full bloom, but I like to watch the petals fall and float off

cherry_petals_lakes_shinjukugyoen
満開の桜が好きな人はたくさんいますが、私は落ちている花びらが好きです。新宿御苑の池で。

In a pond at Shinjuku Gyoen.

Nakano station remodel connects riders to 1970s Sun Mall

駅の新しい改札口がオープンしたときに、大きい花のディスプレイを送るのは、たぶん日本だけだと思います。JR中野駅北口のために、桜祭り協会もサンモールの協会も花を送りました。中野駅、おめでとう。

I love how there are huge flower displays celebrating the opening of the remodeled Nakano JR north exit. It’s a commercial tradition, extending to the opening of ramen shops and bars, too. These huge flower displays are from the Sun Plaza merchants association and the Nakano sakura festival organizers. I hope the redesigned plaza opens soon with a lot of new trees and plants!

Just before summer starts, river in Nakameguro is magical

夏がはじまる前の、今の東京の季節が大好きです。桜で有名な中目黒の川です。もう水に足を入れたい気分です。

Just before summer starts is one of my favorite seasons in Tokyo. This is the river in Nakameguro famous for its cherry trees. I already want to put my feet in the water.

More neighborhood cherry blossoms

うちの近所には、学校や駅や小さな路地に桜があります。子供たちも気がついています。東京ではシュロという椰子の木と一緒に桜が見れます。

Maybe you don’t associate cherry trees and palm trees. They are an odd pair, with this type of palm tree being a self-sower in Tokyo, and the cherries being selected from nurseries and carefully tended for decades.

By now, the cherry blossoms are ending. The petals pool up in a pink carpet, and new leafs shoot out from the dark branches. Once there’s more green than pink, this cherry mini-season is officially over.

Here are some photos of cherry blossoms seen walking and taking the train in my neighborhood. A dusty elementary school soccer field is bordered by shuro palm trees and cherry trees in full bloom. Waiting for the JR train, the platforms face into a canopy of mature trees. On a small street, fallen blossoms attract a child’s attention.

Everyday cherry blossom viewing

路地の桜も楽しいんです。

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.

Huge sakura branches outside soba restaurant

ありきたりの渋谷のビルのなかで、木や石や桜の枝のような自然の素材がおしゃれでなつかしい雰囲気を作っています。

[Date: March 7, 2011]

I love how this ordinary Shibuya building uses minimal natural materials, including wood, stone, and sakura branches, to create an elegant and nostalgic atmosphere.

First sakura after great earthquake

井ノ頭公園が花見を中止するというのは、本当でしょうか。先が見えないので、みんなが不安で落ち着かないようです。

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?

Train bento: A Japanese treat, with organic rice

Last weekend I went to Suwa in Nagano with Kobayashi sensei of Sinajina for the famous, once every six years onbashira festival.

Over two months, the residents of Suwa select enormous trees growing on top of the mountain ridge, cut them and transport them down the hills by dragging them with rope, race down a hill sitting on the logs, and eventually lift them up at several important shrines (while people stand on top of them, I guess, to make it more difficult, heavy and dangerous).

Onbashira is a very pleasant mix of animism, forestry and virility. More on the ceremony later.

But, first, the first joy of taking any trip in Japan is buying a bento at the station. There is an incredible variety, priced from about 500 yen to 1,500 yen. Each comes beautifully wrapped in a box, with fantastic graphic design. You can see some cool typography, artistic mountains and trains, a space shuttle, a pokemon, and cherry blossoms.

I chose the spring special, decorated with sakura petals. Inside I was delighted to find over twenty different foods, including takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Even more remarkable, my box came with a photo and description of the organic rice farmers.

And lastly here’s the purple-striped beauty that got us to the Suwa lake in just two hours from Shinjuku.

Funky hybrid sakura

This tree is so unusual I had to get up close to realize that this one tree has three colors of flowers. Sections are in pink, red and white with pink stripes. But even single branches have multiple colors. This tree is in Shinjuku Gyoen, and it’s called Prunus persica Batsch Genpei. This is the last of my many sakura posts for 2010.

Sakura alongside roads

Nakano Dori is famous for its long rows of cherry trees. My friend who has lived in Nakano for decades explained how the wide street near the station is newer so the trees there are younger. The older trees have much more interesting bark, and at some points the canopies connect across the roadway. I love how the trees show the human care over so many years.

Walking, and perhaps even driving, is so much more fun during sakura time. Its beauty is related to how brief it is.

There is also a beautiful row of mature sakura along the Kanda River, which can be appreciated from inside the Chuo and Sobu trains or viewed from inside the British Council.

Sakura at JR stations

Of all the sakura throughout Tokyo, I especially like the ones at train stations. The rail lines are the central arteries for transit and the core of many neighborhoods. You are always entering and leaving the stations, particularly if you do not drive.

For residential areas like Nakano, they are at the center of multiple shopping streets (shoutengai) and bar districts. They are also meeting places. In bigger districts like Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Tokyo Station, Shinagawa, and Shibuya, the station is the central place with the tallest office buildings, hotels, departments stores, and entertainment districts, not to mention connections with suburban towns and distant cities.

Above is a cherry tree at Iidobashi station. I love how the tree is framed by the dusk sky, the office tower and street light. Below are two images of Nakano station, with its busy north exit framed by rows of pink lanterns (chyouchin) and a tree at the end of the plaza.

Cherry trees at schools

It is a custom in Tokyo and perhaps throughout Japan to have cherry trees at schools, from elementary to universities. Cherry blossoms occur just as the new school year is beginning.

Above is a beautiful row of cherry trees at Nodai, alongside the new playing field. Below is the elementary school near our apartment.

Unlike hanami parties, seeing sakura at schools occurs throughout the city and during the normal course of your day, while walking, commuting, or going to class or school events. At Nodai, I was heading to a party at the Garden Laboratory marking the new school year. The school I pass often on my way to the JR station.

More hanami parties

In addition to the Shinjuku Gyoen hanami party, I also visited Yasukuni shrine, where I saw many office workers celebrating. Because it was April 1, it was also the start of Japanese companies fiscal year, and the date that many new hires start. The shrine was full of black suits. I noticed that in addition to food stalls, there were a few guys selling beer by the case, and delivering them to larger groups. The female employees had to pour drinks and serve the food. I don’t envy their company role.

My friend at Hitachi took me to visit Matsugaoka in north Nakano and the small Tetsugakudo Park. Despite it being a prime hanami weekend, the small park seemed to only attract local residents. It was more family-oriented and local.

I like how Japanese refer to these blue sheets in Katakana English as “leisure sheets.” If you are invited to a picnic, please remember no shoes on the leisure sheets.

Sakura Beauty: from nature to craft

Sakura season is perhaps my favorite time in Tokyo. After a long cold winter, the beauty of cherry blossoms is stunning. I have been out and about this past week, enjoying hanami, or cherry blossom viewings with friends. In addition to socializing in parks, cherry blossoms also brighten every corner of the city: from the entrances of school yards to a single tree in an otherwise unattractive neighborhood. Going about by foot or by train, it is impossible not to catch a glimpse of mature trees bursting with pink petals.

The sakura theme gets carried over into food items, from Kit Kats to Starbuck drinks. And as if nature is not enough, it is also brought indoors with real branches and even paper crafts, as in this JR station near our apartment.

I’ll be adding many more posts about this season in the next days. . .