The extended branches of Yoshino cherry trees that line the streets of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture form canopy-like tunnels of pale pink blossoms.

This coming weekend, the Yonomori district of the town of Tomioka will hold its famed annual "Sakura Matsuri" (cherry blossom festival) for the first time in eight years.

The trees were planted during the third decade of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) by local citizens to commemorate the development of what used to be an expanse of wasteland.

The "cherry blossom tunnels" made Tomioka one of the top springtime tourist attractions in the Tohoku region. But the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011 changed everything.

The entire town was evacuated, and the festival had to be discontinued--until it was resumed under different names, one of which was "Fukko no Tsudoi" (a gathering for reconstruction).

But the familiar name of Sakura Matsuri is returning this spring, one year after the evacuation order was lifted for most parts of the town.

"Finally, we are able to hold the festival like it's meant to be," beamed Takeshi Owada, 65, who heads the festival's organizing committee.

In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster, Owada and his entire family evacuated temporarily to the city of Iwaki. But his signboard-making company is still in a zone designated as "difficult to return to."

Some of the cherry blossom tunnels are still behind barricades in an "off-limits" zone. I feel sorry for those flowers that will fall and die without being seen by anyone, even though they are no different from all other cherry trees that have graced the town for more than a century.

Around the nation, this year's unseasonably mild spring has rushed cherry blossoms into blooming early. In Tomioka, too, the harsh chills of winter have been replaced suddenly by the almost sweaty warmth of spring.

During my recent visit, I saw some locals "talking" to the trees, telling their swelling buds, "Don't bloom yet" and "Don't rush." These people want the trees to have as many blossoms left as possible for the festival.

This spring, children's voices and laughter are finally heard at Tomioka's just-reopened elementary and junior high schools. The municipal library is also back in business, and so is the local job placement agency.

Even when the cherry blossoms are past their peak, the Yonomori district will enable visitors to see the town's gradual recovery process. This is indeed the spring of rebirth for the community.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 11

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.