2017 . 05 . 26

Tokyo’s Cherry Blossom Hideaways – A Curated Guide

location: Tokyo, Japan

 

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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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!).

Tama Zoo
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2017 . 05 . 15

An Ode To The Art of Hanami

location: Tokyo, Japan

 

It’s that time of the season again. An ephemeral window of period where winter slowly melts into spring, letting us know the cold wind is no longer biting again. For a brief couple weeks in early April, the whole country rejoice over the overwhelming blooms of the cherry blossom. We have survived the freezing winter and we hold our breath to watch those little sakura buds eventually unfold. I tell myself, and my lovely Ren and Dragana, that it’s the moment we need to seize by treating ourselves a simple picnic under the blushing trees.

Sakura grow almost everywhere throughout Japan. Sometimes you find it leaning beside an old vending machine at the corner of Asakusa street, but it’s hard to turn your eyes off when they flock together and cloud you with a gorgeous canopy of pink petals.

With the highest flow of tourists around the time, it’s been a tricky business to find ourselves a spot that is far from the madding crowd, serene enough to leave us alone, and nothing less splendid for us to profoundly take joy in this passing beauty.

I never blame those people who have traveled thousands and thousands miles just to catch a glimpse of this otherworldly wonder, indeed it is a splendor I cannot deny. Yet perhaps if there is one thing I may propose as a defense to the breathtaking blooms is that they are more as a gift for us, rather than a mere phenomenon, or heaven forbid, an “attraction”.

I often ask myself, “how do we grasp the full meaning of the blooms, comprehend their purpose of existence, take part in the tranquil bliss they bring; without having gone (and survived) through the deadly winter?”. The cherry blossom are celebrated because they put an end to the dreary season. We had lived through the unforgiving coldness, and everyday we looked forward to this one day when the birds start singing again, and the leaves gently roll out from the parched branches. We understand the frost, and thus sakura is not just another beautiful flower for us. They are what we’ve been longing for so long. They are what speak to us that the hardest part is over.

I believe the Japanese take delight in “hanami” (花見, meaning “flower viewing”) not by simply throwing a cloth on the grass, cracking up some cold veers and taking selfies with sakura as the background. More than just sitting under the blooming tree, hanami is essentially an act of appreciation. A mindful expression of what Haruki Murakami echoes over and over again as “mujo”: an acceptance to the impermanence; that everything changes and will eventually come to an end. Winter finally winds up, but so do the flowers too, eventually.

Taking a moment to sit still below the astounding blossoms and admiring them quietly is an interpretation of embracing the transience. A humble attitude to accept the grandness of the universe. A posture of gratitude to the merciful warm wind that comes over at last to bring the nature to life again.

A hanami is not a lone activity detached from our life line and could be simplifiedly mimicked as “another must-do touristy experience”. A hanami is an inseparable affair of the Japanese life, a speckle of chance to feel relief from the fading frigid days, a crucial part to understand life as a whole unfinished story. It is an integral moment to realize that our days, although they vapor as quickly as the morning dew, are meaningful and worth to be lived fully, nevertheless.

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A row of cherry blossom by the river is our personal definition of the spring solitary shell. That kind of scene is not difficult to find in this melancholic country, the hardest task is to spot one that is not overcrowded by people. I know then the only option is to aim far from the city center. We pick Tokyo’s western suburb area for our luck: Tachikawa. We find a stream that runs between Koushu kaido and Tama river, and nestles in a quiet neighborhood along the Tachikawa baseball stadium.

The moment we get there is perhaps the most surrealistic encounter I ever had with sakura. I stand on the bridge both speechless and euphoric, disbelieve of what I am witnessing. Extensive rows of gallant sakura trees, with their branches droop touching the tip of the stream, arching themselves to the damp sky and make the longest pink petals canopy I had never seen before.

We rush down near the water and unpack our things. Dragana then offer us some slices of baguette with her homemade Serbian spread. Ren gets himself busy brewing coffee with his new military equipment that can heat water just by cracking it (I still don’t have any idea how the thing works, or why he bought such a thing). Suddenly we are all set. We have our food, we have our quiet spot, we have the most gorgeous view, and we have each other. Now all we need is to immerse ourselves in the moment, and just be present. Because after all, we realize, that is all we need to take in this wondrous beauty, while it is slipping away.

A TWO CENTS’ WORTH

  1. Do your homework. Unless you live in a place with a field of sakura in your backyard, hanami will always be a battle, either with the flood of tourists, or with the Japanese. No one wants to miss the blooms. So if you wish to have a quality time with the flowers, do some research of “hanami spot” beforehand. Find out where are the less crowded sites, or when is the less crowded time. You can also check my favorite hanami spots in Tokyo here
  2. That being said, weekdays are always a better option than the weekend. But if you can’t avoid the weekend, try to get there as early as possible. By “early” I mean like before 10 AM. Some places I know like Ueno Park or Koganei Park would require you to catch your spot as early as 6 AM because they are highly popular. Getting there early will allow you to find a spot with the best view. None of us wants to sit at far from the cherry blossom and call it a hanami, right?
  3. Bring an extra plastic bag to collect your trash. A trash can is a rare treasure anywhere in Japan, so make sure you have an extra plastic bag to take home your trash with you and not leaving them at the park.