TIME and tide wait for no man… the same can be said of cherry blossoms.
These delicate flowers, which range from pink to white in colour, are fervently awaited every spring in Japan, where they are known as sakura.
The first buds are greeted with fanfare and their arrival is tracked in meticulous detail. The flowers bloom and wilt within two weeks, and are at their most resplendent for just a few days.
Sakura is, thus, treasured as a symbol of the fleeting nature of life and a reminder to cherish every moment.
Festivals, hanami (flower viewing) picnics, night illuminations and sakura-themed snacks celebrate its season.
While the first blooms (in Okinawa) appear as early as January, most places in central Japan burst into bloom at the end of March or early April.
The flowers can be viewed up to May in the north.
Kyoto: Steeped in tradition
The ancient capital of Kyoto is a classic spot for hanami, steeped as it is in culture and tradition, with too many magnificent temples to count and fine cuisine.
The Philosopher’s Path, which links the stunning Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji temples, is a top viewing spot, for good reason.
The petal-strewn canal path, lined with cherry trees with drooping branches of pink, makes for a fairyland stroll as petals drift down gently.
It is almost like a pilgrimage, as flower-seekers speak in hushed tones amid the cascade of pink.
For a livelier scene, the banks of the Kamo river are unbeatable on the weekends as merrymakers bask in the sunshine surrounded by a profusion of pink.
There is lots of space to sit back with a snack and admire the scenery.
Tokyo: Flowers with skyscrapers
The vibrant capital city is a great place to see the flowers as it seems to have as many sakura sites as skyscrapers.
The lush Shinjuku Gyoen park, with its expansive lawns, is a short walk away from the busy Shinjuku station.
Surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers, the garden with more than 1,000 trees offers an evocative view of nature’s beauty, juxtaposed against man-made wonders.
Equally popular is the Ueno Park, which houses world-class museums and shrines, as well as more than 1,000 cherry trees.
Other sakura spots in Tokyo include the Imperial Palace Gardens and Hamarikyu Gardens.
Mount Yoshino: A sea of sakura
Thousands head to Mount Yoshino every spring to see the impressive 30,000 pink trees covering its slopes.
Its magnificent views have made it a top viewing location for centuries.
The town is a lively one, with plenty of shops, restaurants and accommodation.
From here, an 8km walking path takes visitors to the topmost viewing spot, with plenty of places to picnic under the trees.
As a Unesco World Heritage Site, Mount Yoshino is not just about sakura.
It has impressive temples and historical sites, and traditional ryokans to tempt visitors to stop for a night or two.
Hirosaki and Himeji: Castles framed in pink
Hirosaki Castle in the north and Himeji Castle in central Japan are ranked as top locations to see awe-inspiring structures framed by frothy pink.
As Hirosaki is located at the northern tip of Honshu Island, its flowers bloom towards the end of April.
Hirosaki Park, with its 400-year-old castle, has 2,600 trees on its grounds.
When the flowers bloom, the park bursts into festivity with evening illuminations, hanami picnics and boat rides on a petal strewn moat.
Hirosaki is also home to the remains of a 15th-century castle and Chosho-ji, an atmospheric temple.
Himeji Castle, around an hour by train from Kyoto, is Japan’s largest and most impressive castle and tourist magnet.
Spring is one of the best times to visit this 14th-century white castle dressed in fluffy pink and enjoy the flower-themed festivities.
Visitors can also take in Mount Shosha, a nearby temple complex dating back 1,000 years, and the lovely Kokoen Garden.
Hokkaido: The finale
The sakura’s final appearance is in Hokkaido, the northernmost island, where a chillier climate brings forth the flowers from late April to early May.
Sapporo, in particular Maruyama Park and Hokkaido-jingu Shrine, is the place to go.
For those who want to venture further, Fort Goryokaku in Hakodate is an evocative park with 1,600 trees and a lot of history.
Climb the observation tower for a breathtaking view of the Edo period star-shaped fortress dressed in dancing pink buds.
Elsewhere, Hokkaido’s Takinoue Park turns a bright pink of a different sort every spring with moss phlox flowers.
Mount Yotei, the startling Blue Pond in Biei and the hot springs resorts in Hokkaido are other tourist attractions.
CHERRY BLOSSOMS BEYOND JAPAN
Cherry blossoms also find an effusive welcome in South Korea.
Seoul celebrates with a flower festival, where visitors can enjoy cultural performances and food.
The blossoms can also be viewed in places such as Jeju Island, Daegu, Incheon, Jinhae and Gyeongju, where a marathon is held to coincide with the blossom period.
The city, which has 43,000 cherry trees, hosts a festival, night illuminations, talks, concerts and fairs.
For those who want to do more than stroll among the trees, there is a bicycle outing.
The poetry-inclined can take part in a haiku competition, with top poems read at the festival.
Popular sites for viewing the blossoms include the VanDusen Botanical Garden, Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park.
New York, United States
In New York, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden hosts the annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival, where visitors can enjoy events and performances celebrating Japanese culture.
Other places to see the blooms include Central Park in Manhattan, Riverside Park and Roosevelt Island.
Jerte Valley, Spain
Over in central Spain, Jerte Valley is the place to go to see two million cherry trees bursting into white lace in March.
The beauty of the landscape is complemented by a Cherry Blossom Fiesta, where exhibitions, tasting sessions for local produce, guided tours and music performances are held.
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