THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
March 17, 2023 at 18:29 JST
For the first time in four years, people in Tokyo can have picnics under the cherry blossom trees now in bloom and enjoy related events, though with some restrictions still in place.
Local governments are allowing picnics while taking measures to avoid crowds to stop the spread of novel coronavirus infections.
“We would like people to enjoy cherry blossom viewing while taking basic measures such as hand sanitizing and following every parks’ rules this year, too,” said an official in charge of Tokyo’s metropolitan parks.
Cherry blossoms started blooming on March 14 in central Tokyo, the earliest since statistics started being kept.
In March 2020, the Tokyo government asked people to refrain from eating and drinking alcohol in the metropolitan parks due to concerns that the long hours of such parties could increase the spread of infections.
Now, the Tokyo government, which manages metropolitan parks that include Ueno Park in Taito Ward and Inokashira Park in Musashino and Mitaka cities, are allowing people to enjoy picnics with food and drinks after four years.
The COVID-19 situation in Japan has calmed and mask wearing has been left up to the individual since March 13.
However, there will still be some restrictions at some parks.
For example, the path of Sakura-dori street in Ueno Park, a famed cherry blossom viewing spot, was turned into a one-way street to avoid crowding during the season, according to officials.
People are also not allowed to spread out picnic sheets and have parties in the street. Instead, such parties will be allowed in a separate area until 8 p.m., officials said.
In Inokashira Park, picnics are permitted until 10 p.m.
Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa and Akishima cities, western Tokyo, has about 1,500 cherry trees of 31 varieties, including 735 Somei-Yoshino trees. Picnics are allowed there as they were before the pandemic.
Until last year, picnics and alcohol were prohibited at the park and ropes were set up along the roadsides to prevent infections. Entry to areas such as a cherry blossom garden was also restricted.
“The risk of infection has not disappeared,” an official in charge of the park said.
Officials are asking people to hold parties for only a short time to reduce the risk of infections.
BOUQUET OF EVENTS
Beginning March 24, the Chiyoda Sakura Festival will be held at Chidorigafuchi, a poplar cherry blossom viewing spot, which is hosted by Chiyoda Ward and its tourism association. The festival typically draws over 1 million visitors.
The cherry trees along the Chidorigafuchi Green Way stretching about 700 meters will be illuminated from around 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Chidorigafuchi Boat Pier, where people can enjoy cherry blossoms by boat from the Imperial Palace’s moat, will be open until 8:30 p.m.
The Sakura Festival will be held in the Nihonbashi, Yaesu and Kyobashi areas of Chuo Ward from March 17. During the season, installations featuring cherry blossom-colored curtains will appear at the open-air space in the Coredo Muromachi terrace.
A variety of other events are also scheduled.
In these areas, long-established restaurants in the Nihonbashi area, department stores and hotels will open food stands again after four years. The public can enjoy original menu options available only on March 25 and 26.
The Kita Ward Sakura SA*KASO Festival will be held on March 25 and 26 at Asukayama Park, which has about 600 historic Somei-Yoshino trees.
The cherry blossom trees were planted as part of the Kyoho Reforms introduced by the eighth shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751). The policy was to turn the park into a cherry blossom viewing spot for the common people in the Edo Period (1603-1867).
Traditional Japanese drumming and Ryukyu dances will be performed on a stage, and about 40 food stalls mainly featuring local stores will be available.
The organizing committee expects 5,000 to 10,000 people will attend the event over the two days.
“We are excited about the large-scale event after a long hiatus due to the pandemic,” one official said.
MEASURES TO PREVENT CROWDS
Local governments are concerned about crowds, however.
The cherry blossoms along the Megurogawa river near Nakameguro Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line will be illuminated at night for the first time in four years from March 18, which is expected to draw large crowds.
Before the pandemic, 3 million people visited the Nakameguro district during the cherry blossom season. That halved over the past three years due to the government’s request to refrain from having cherry blossom viewing parties.
Local officials expect the number will return to pre-pandemic levels this year.
To help curb infections, Meguro Ward launched a manner-promotion campaign titled “Meguro’s Cherry Blossom with COVID--Keep Good Manners.”
These tips include moving in one direction without stopping and refraining from drinking and eating on the streets as much as possible.
People also cannot reserve spots for viewing the blossoms by spreading out picnic sheets or having picnics in the area along the Megurogawa river. Instead, visitors can only stroll along the cherry blossom-lined streets.
The paths are narrow and bridges over the river are popular spots for taking photos, which may cause overcrowding, officials said.
The Meguro Ward government said it is keeping in mind the possibility of stampedes such as the deadly one that occurred in October 2022 in Seoul’s bustling Itaewon district. It said it will deploy private security personnel in areas where congestion is expected and cooperate with the police.
At the Chiyoda Sakura Festival, artificial intelligence cameras will be installed at Chidorigafuchi Green Way and Kudanshita Park to ease congestion and prevent the spread of infections.
Chiyoda Ward's tourism association is providing real-time footage to monitor congestion on its official website and encourage visitors to view the blossoms during less crowded hours.
Officials are also calling on people to take measures against spreading COVID-19.
Last year, the sixth wave of infections that began in January bottomed out at the end of March before resurging in early April.
At that time, the health ministry said the resurgence was attributable to an increase in social interactions, such as spring breaks, school entrance ceremonies and the cherry blossom viewing season.
Visit this page for the latest news on Japan’s battle with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Cooking experts, chefs and others involved in the field of food introduce their special recipes intertwined with their paths in life.
Here is a collection of first-hand accounts by “hibakusha” atomic bomb survivors.
The Asahi Shimbun aims “to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” through its Gender Equality Declaration.
Let’s explore the Japanese capital from the viewpoint of wheelchair users and people with disabilities with Barry Joshua Grisdale.