Chasing cherry blossoms

“Oh, you’re going in cherry blossom season.  The parks and gardens will simply be awash with cherry blossoms.  It will be beautiful.”  Our friends’ and relatives’ words were positively dripping with envy.

I had recalled some rule of thumb that in cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, the one to two-week window within which cherry blossoms bloom, occurs sometime in early April.  My parents had travelled at that time and seen cherry blossoms.  We knew of others who had done likewise with equal reward.

We had expressly chosen our dates with this in mind and arrived in Tokyo on 11 April with high expectations.

(Fake) cherry blossom lined laneway near Shinjuku Station

(Fake) cherry blossom lined laneway near Shinjuku Station

Since our return, I’ve discovered several websites dedicated to forecasting cherry blossom blooming (or should that be blooming cherry blossoms?) by place and date.  This is one of them.

Had we timed our arrival two weeks too late?  Not entirely.

Even in Tokyo, there was the odd remnant, a tree here or there that defied the forecast to give laggards like us a taste of what it must be like when the blossoms are at their peak. When I saw this lone specimen in Asakusa – my first encounter with the vision splendid – I almost fell upon the tree with relief, then remembered that I had to capture the moment before the blossoms might cascade to the ground.


Lone cherry blossom tree in Asakusa

While we hadn’t exactly missed the opportunity to see cherry blossoms at their profuse best, if we wanted to appreciate the “cluster effect” then – we were told – we would have to choose another location.  Somewhere a bit cooler where the blossoms had bloomed later.  A place with altitude.

After three days of footslogging the streets of Tokyo, we were ready to cool our heels for a while.  Nikko – at around 2,000 feet and an easy day trip from Tokyo – offered both the opportunity to do so in the two and a half hours that it takes to get there and back by train, plus the prospect of cherry blossoms.

As we approached Nikko Station, I scanned the landscape for the promise of the by now familiar blossoms.  There was none.  Had we come all this way for nothing?  Again, not entirely.

Nikko is home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples where we would spend a few hours meandering around lavish gardens and gilded buildings.  A few examples presented near the Rinno-ji Temple which is currently housed within a large enclosed building as it undergoes restoration.

A bell-ringer framed by the last of these cherry blossoms (did the photographer notice the blossoms?):


A suitable screen for a toilet block:


Wending our way down the hill back to the station, we spied not one, but THREE trees in bloom:


While the Nikko offer was decidedly better than what we’d seen in Tokyo,  it was still ……well…..sparse.

Would it get any better than this?  Yes, it would!

Our next stop after Tokyo was Yudanaka, an alpine town at 2,200 feet not far from Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics.  We had chosen to spend a couple of nights in Yudanaka to enjoy other attractions for which it is better known (more on that later), but happily this visit would coincide with one of the best times to see cherry blossoms in this town.

This is a sample of what awaited us.









The day after I took these photos – the day on which we would leave Yudanaka – a cold snap passed through the district bringing snow.  As the snow fell, so did the blossoms.

Our timing had been perfect.