The days are bright longer now. Golden branches start to roll out their sleeves. Tiny buds are peeking up everywhere you glance. You know spring is arriving.
I call myself lucky to be granted the chance to live in a country where spring and its euphoria is epidemic, and widely celebrated. On my way to work everyday, from the moving windows of my train I watch them as they grow blushing slowly. That infamous flower of Japan. The cherry blossom. They are the peculiar kind here, people said. No other genus found in other country the same they grow in Japan. That’s why people from everywhere come, I guess.
No, not yet. Maybe three more days. I thought to myself as I observed them from the window. Sakura has its stages of growth. They only exist for around two weeks before they are gone, and the most perfect scene is when they reach the full bloom. Personally, I look forward to when they pass that stage a little bit. When most of them are still hanging gloriously, but few start to loose off the branches. There is nothing more lovely for me to walk under the raindrops of sakura petals, and to see a bed of those petals covering a river or my pathway.
I check JNTO religiously to follow how the blossoms are growing each day. They usually publish the forecast months before, but I notice it’s often missed. But somehow it’s relieving that they miss. I take it as the universe giving us a gentle reminder to stay grounded and hold back our untamed greed to “conquer” the nature. Then I realize the best way to catch the right time for the full bloom is by listening to them. I put down my anxiety to relentlessly check the forecast and decide to just go by my senses.
One day I woke up with the drop of warmer sunlight above my skin, and the breeze was forgiving. I walked out my door and I could smell the green fragrance. My lips tasted less dry, and I saw people smiled more generously than a day before. Their eyes were brighter, their laughter were joyful to my ears. They’re here, I murmured. I know it. I feel it. This is the day.
I hopped on my usual train, passed my usual routes. There were some empty seats I spotted, but I chose to stand. I wanted to be anxiously ecstatic when I saw them, and I couldn’t do it while sitting. Two stations were passed. There is this street with rows of sakura after the fifth station that became my daily observation object. One more station. I kept my eyes from blinking.
Then there they were! The gorgeous, overwhelming, astonishing ephemeral beauty before my own eyes. For ten seconds I admired them from the passing train. My hand were quicker. I texted my fiancé and best friend, leaving them with no say but a yes to hanami on the following weekend. I knew I had to take part in this transience party. They said yes. Obviously (and you can read how our hanami went here .
I hopped off the train smiling. My mind started to get to work. I scrolled down my memory to reckon the place where we could grasp the sakura delight soundly. Several possible scenarios appeared in my head. I studied them thoroughly, and eventually I couldn’t make up my mind. I ended up hunting them down one by one. At the end of my peripatetic encounters with the blossoms, I knew I made the right decision.
So here I am, sharing to you my personally curated list of places in and around Tokyo to immerse yourself in the depth of sakura beauty. These places aren’t the particular ones you can find in the usual tourist guide, which solely means two things: they are less touristy, and they are not that easy to get to. Yet then again, this is what this blog is all about. I relish persuading you to walk down the road less traveled, because I believe only there lies the exceptional beauty you soul could always treasure.
1. EGAWA SESERAGI (江川せせらぎ)
An hour or so from Tokyo by train, nests just slightly below the main road of Shin-Yokohama, there stretched out as far as your eyes could wonder: the marriage between an elongated canopy of blush tinted sakura and a carpet of colorful tulips. Right in the middle of it lays a quiet canal with mossy grass breathing underneath. A pair of ducks and sometimes the heron bird swimming back and forth once in a while. This paradise is perfectly hidden in plain sight. When we got there, there were only few people (and mostly the local dwellers) walked along the stream. It took us twice of getting lost to reach this place, but they definitely paid off. Big time. The serenity and overwhelming atmosphere is out of this world, and my photos couldn’t do any justice to what I presently experienced there.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Shin-Yokohama station, get on board with the local Blue Line train toward Azamino, and get off at Nakamachidai station. Go to the south direction and walk for about 3 minutes, and you’ll find the stream stretched crossing the main road.
2. ONIBUS COFFEE NAKAMEGURO
Still along the Toyoko line, this petite café is just behind the overcrowded Nakameguro station. Not on the side where the popular Meguro river is, it’s the opposite. There are no rows of sakura trees nearby. There is only one big, old tree behind the building, that reaches up to its second floor and waving calmly through the wide paneled window. But that’s exactly why I put this place in my list. The Japanese styled lounge is quiet and plain, the only ornament is that big, old sakura tree outside the window. The other elements are toned down, framing your view only to the indescribable beauty before your eyes. It draws a humble distant between that grand wonder and yourself, teaching you the respectful way to admire it. For me this place is a perfect cocoon to contemplate in a delicate presence of sakura. And for this kind of particular momentum, one tree forthright is enough.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the Nakameguro station, take the East exit and walk straight on the south direction for about 1 minute, the coffee shop resides at the corner of the first alley on your right.
Onibus Coffee Nakameguro
3. NEGAWA STREAM
My perfect hideout for hanami. The realization of my ideal scene of hanami. Nothing less, and I don’t know how to elaborate more. I, however, managed to write a lengthy ode in relevant to the splendor of this place, and you can read it here . Many tourism sites always point out Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen, or Koganei Park as their recommendations. I had tried them all, and I could say they are good (no, not perfect) if you want to join the hype, or don’t mind to cramp yourself in the crowd. I mind. And hence they don’t make it to my list. I prefer the Negawa stream by millions. Or perhaps, I just prefer solitary, tranquility, and realness. And I found them here, not in those popular parks with seas of “trendy” people.
HOW TO GET THERE
Transfer to the Tama Toshi Monorail Line from Tachikawa station, and get off at Shibasaki-Taiikukan station (one stop from Tachikawa-Minami station). Take the west exit (the right turn after the ticket gate) and walk to the north until you find a stretched park down the main road. Follow along it to the east side until you find the stream.
4. TAMA ZOO
This quirky choice will only work if you’re a dork like me. But if you truly are, I just want to say that you are more than welcome in this blog! Maybe we could even be friends! *smirk*
This place, or should I say, forest, is everything! When Ren and I stepped our feet there for the first time, he said to me, “I think we cherish this place because instead of forcing the creatures to fit in our world, we are the ones who are required to go the distance and bring ourselves to their world, if we’d like to experience the awe.” And I couldn’t agree more. As my concurrence I will dedicate a single post for this place. This zoo has nullified my dilemma about zoo itself. It’s literally built out the hills of Tama, and to stroll around it means to hike through it. Literally. And there, as you explore your ways to the creatures’ kingdom, you’ll find the old cherry blossom trees here and there. They are guarding the giraffes’ savanna, or you’ll spot them greeting you before the eagles’ cliffs. Wherever they are, they are perfectly just where they are meant to be: blooming beautifully around their kin, the mother nature and her own.
HOW TO GET THERE
Transfer to the Tama Toshi Monorail Line from Tachikawa station, and get off at Tama Doubutsu Koen. The zoo is just down the station (you’ll see two giant elephant statues at the gate and you’ll know that’s the entrance for the zoo!).