Spring has begun in Japan with the blooming of the countrys beloved cherry trees, with revelers eager to use the occasion as a way to break from a year marked by crisis and disaster.
Last year, the mood was muted and many cherry celebrations were cancelled after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which killed nearly 19,000 people. The disaster also set off a nuclear crisis.
At Tokyos Ueno Park, where 1,200 cherry trees make it one of the capitals most popular cherry-viewing spots, signs were erected encouraging visitors to show “self-restraint” out of respect. The threat of power cuts also dampened spirits.
The nation was too stunned last year to partake in the national ritual of “hanami” cherry blossom viewing after the March 11 disasters left more than 18,000 dead or missing, but now people are in the mood.
The first cherry tree, or “sakura,” blossomed in Kochi Prefecture last week and the light pink glitter will soon spread across the archipelago, giving the nation a much-needed uplift.
Last year, cherry blossoms were a poignant sight, highlighting the evanescent nature of the pink florets. There was a strong feeling throughout Japan of walking in lockstep with the disaster victims and a collective self-restraint set in, with many people forgoing their usual pleasant pursuits, including hanami.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said Monday that Tokyo’s cherry trees will enter full bloom within a week. But the capital’s annual blossom-viewing parties, or "hanami," will be much quieter this year because festivals here and elsewhere are being called off in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Organizers say they felt it was appropriate to refrain from any kind of festivities when so many lives were lost, but added that the decisions were also based on efforts to reduce the use of electricity. Some also cited security concerns.
"It was a disaster that’s beyond imagination, so we felt we should express our condolences," said Kazumi Indei of the Chiyoda-ku Tourist Association, which organizes the cherry tree festival in Chidorigafuchi. The group has canceled its annual festival, including the evening cherry tree illumination.
If you haven’t had the chance to go out and enjoy the sakura trees you better get out there fast. The Hanami season is here and it’s ever fleeting. Hope all have a great time celebrating this year under the cherry blossoms of Japan.
Threatened with the disappearance of its culturally iconic cherry blossoms, Japanese scientists have used heavy ion beams to create a new breed of tree that blooms throughout the year.
The Japanese have for centuries celebrated the arrival of spring by sitting beneath cherry trees as their delicate blossoms open each year, but due to global warming and the impact of rising temperatures in cities caused by vehicle emissions, air conditioning units and other forms of pollution, the trees are blooming earlier every year.
Not only are they coming earlier – five days ahead of schedule last year – but research suggests that the trees are producing fewer blooms.
“We have noticed that since around 1990, temperatures have been rising noticeably and the number of cherry blossoms being produced has decreased,” said Dr. Tomoko Abe, head of the Radiation Biology Team at the state-run RIKEN research institute.
“Cherry trees require a minimum of 8,000 hours of low temperatures over the winter to produce the optimum blossoms, but as Japan gets warmer we are falling short of that figure,” said.
“And that is a problem because we Japanese love cherry blossom season.”