Photo/IllutrationCherry and rape blossoms bloom simultaneously along the banks of the Aonogawa river in Minami-Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, in February. (Provided by Kazuto Nakanishi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

When Kazuto Nakanishi was dumped by his girlfriend of seven-and-a-half years, just as he was about to pop the question, a different kind of love bloomed: a devotion to cherry blossoms.

While sizzling summer heat grips the country, sakura season is still here for Nakanishi as he continues his quest for cherry blossoms blooming somewhere in Japan.

Although cherry blossoms are most closely associated with spring, they can be found flowering around the country in all seasons.

It has been almost 17 years since the 54-year-old real estate company employee of Tokyo’s Minato Ward started his monthly pilgrimages to find the flowers, making him something of a specialist.

“Anybody can be an expert in something,” he said.

One sweltering sunny day in mid-June, Nakanishi was at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo checking up on branches of the "Jugatsuzakura" (October-flowering cherry) that blooms in fall as well as in spring. A closer look revealed there were several flowers the size of a fingertip dotted around the branches.

“Cherries are mysterious. A variety that is supposed to bloom in spring and fall also flourishes in summer here for some reason,” Nakanishi said, before taking a picture with his single-lens reflex camera: “I guess this is the most beautiful one.”

Nakanishi embarked on his cherry-finding quest following the romantic breakup when he was 28 years old and had just bought a condominium.

However, after the split he came to a realization that he was now free of constraints. He quit his job to go on the road at age 30. He decided to follow the cherry blossom front as it advanced south to north, but he didn’t have any particular reason other than that his hobby was photography.

Nakanishi set out in March 1995. He was instantly captivated by the ephemeral beauty of cherry blossoms as he drove his compact wagon from Kagoshima Prefecture to Hokkaido in the far north.

Blossoms he saw at Hirosaki Castle in Aomori Prefecture were blooming in tight clusters, even though the trees were old, thanks to pruning techniques adapted from apple cultivation. The trees were pruned to make branches grow low so that blossoms could be seen spread out up close.

“At any rate, they were so energetic and overwhelming,” the cherry fanatic said.

After learning several years later that cherry flowers bloom not only in spring but also in other seasons, he began putting himself at the forefront of the cherry blossom front, starting in Okinawa Prefecture after the turn of the year.

While visiting many places famous for cherry blossoms in Hokkaido in summer and the Kanto region in fall and winter, Nakanishi also had expectations of finding cherry blossoms blooming out of season. As he continued to share his photos and journals online, he thought of becoming an expert in cherry-related travels.

When he heard that cherry blossoms were blooming in summer on Miyakojima island in Okinawa Prefecture, he spent 110,000 yen ($991) for a one-day round air trip to get there. Upon arrival, he set out to explore and finally made it to a private house where he found 20 blossoms of Taiwan cherry.

“They looked even more tenacious and adorable,” Nakanishi said.

The enthusiast went monthly with his cherry-blossom viewing activities in September 2001, with the frequency increasing to once a week in November 2016.

He was worried about the heat, but he found four cherry blossoms in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden on July 24, allowing him to keep his record going. However, no matter how hard he tries to locate the blossoms, there are times when he is not blessed with weather and when it is past the peak of blooming.

“Cherry blossoms are like a lover who never reciprocates no matter how hard you chase,” Nakanishi said. “I find myself looking for even more beautiful cherry blossoms.”