Adapted from an article by Bruce Lambert in the April 1991 ALIEN TIMES
The blooming of the cherry blossoms, a welcome sign of spring, will take place soon. It is likely that someone will soon solemnly inform you that Japan has four seasons, and that most Japanese people are very fond of the cherry blossoms.
There are over 300 species or varieties of cherry trees, but the most common in Japan is the "Edozakura", a popular variety developed in the 19th century toward the end of the Edo Period. Cherry trees are often planted in school yards, where their blooming roughly coincides with the start of the new school year.
In the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, cherry trees bloom beginning in February, but for most of the country, they begin to bloom sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May. The opening of the flowers is keenly monitored by the media, and a national "cherry blossom front" is closely charted for many weeks as it slowly moves up the Japanese archipelago.
The lovely blooming of the cherry blossoms, however, lasts for a very short time. After about a week, and just at the peak of their beauty, the light pink blossoms fall to the ground. Thus, they are often compared to the tenuousness and brevity of human live. Especially poignant is the image of young soldiers going off to battle, to be cut down in their prime. As they march away, the quietly falling cherry blossoms seem like frail tears from nature. There is thus the hint of tragedy mixed with the beauty of the cherry blossoms.
It is common during the cherry blossom period for various groups of friends, office co-workers, etc., to gather in the parks, lay down some mats, and party under the trees. People eat, drink, sing, dance, and enjoy general merriment at such "0hanami" parties. Tokyo's Ueno Park, especially crazy during this period, is well worth a late afternoon/evening visit in order to see Japan at play.
In Tsukuba, there are a number of excellent places to enjoy the cherry blossoms, including:
** the walk along the Kokai River south from Fukuoka-seki (follow Tsuchiura-Noda Sen west towards Yawara and Mitsukaido, about 15 to 20 minutes by car from central Tsukuba)
** Ninomiya and Akatsuka Parks
** the walkway north of the Kenkyu Koryu Center (Center for Institutes--between Daiei and Minami Odori)
** within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (the Norin Danchi off Route 408 in Kannondai)
** Oike Park in Hojo off of Route 125 at the base of Mt. Tsukuba (a nice place to rent a row boat)
** the park next to Takezono Higashi Elementary School
** Ottonuma Park (on Higashi Odori just south of the Joban Expressway)
** Kijo Park and along the Sakura River in Tsuchiura
** anywhere quiet that you can find a cherry tree
The Kokai River walk is especially nice. Weekend evenings are a bit too noisy for my taste; at dawn it is quiet and peaceful (you may find revellers leftover from the night before). Dress warmly, bring something to sit on (it is often muddy), and pack a picnic. Blossoms are expected to be somewhat late this year and will probably be at there best around the first weekend of April.
If you don't mind going farther afield, Shimotsuma, Mito and Hitachi also have excellent trees. Located about 30 minutes to the northwest of Tsukuba on Route 125, Shimotsuma is known for its Sanuma Sun Beach, a great summer fun spot, but the entire Sanuma Lake itself is surrounded by cherry trees, making it a nice spring outing as well. To find it, continue on 125 past the junction with Route 294 for about 2 km., and turn to the right at the corner with all the stone lanterns, etc. It's on the right a few hundred meters up.
Kairakuen in Mito is one of the most famous gardens in Japan and is especially well-known for its plum blossoms in early to mid March. There are, however, plenty of cherry trees as well. Hitachi's Kamine Park, located just north of Hitachi Station, has a very nice amusement park and a small zoo, all surrounded by about 1000 cherry trees. There is also an interesting festival on April 6 and 7, including giant floats and the famous Sasara Lion Mask Dance. Definitely a good family outing.
Another kind of "hanami" well worth a trip is the "Suisen (Daffodil) Fantasy '96" being presented at the Hitachi Seaside Park on the coast just east of Mito. With 700,000 daffodil bulbs of 102 varieties together with 30,000 hyacinth bulbs and other flowers, it should prove to be spectacular. The festival runs from March 24 through April 21. Hitachi Seaside Park also includes an amusement park with 24 different attractions.
Hot Air Balloon and Peach Blossom Festival
The "River Field Park" along the banks of the Watarase River in Koga (about an hour's drive from Tsukuba in western Ibaraki), the Asian Balloon Festival will be held on some weekend days and holidays between March 15 and 31. Specifically, balloons will be lifting off March 15, 16 and 17, 20 (a holiday), and 31. Approximately 80 balloon teams from around Asia will be participating, and some offer flights for a fee on the final day (3/31).
From those lofty heights (or just on the ground) you can get a good view of the 2000 peach trees in bloom, some dating back 350 years.
To get there, just travel west on route 125 until you get to Koga. The River Field Park is located just to the south of the bridge (route 354) across the Watarase River, and the peach trees are in the Koga Sogo Park in the southwest quadrant of the city (below route 354 a short ways from the river).
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