Photo/Illutration People enjoy picnics under blooming cherry trees at Ueno Park in Tokyo’s Taito Ward on March 19. (Shigetaka Kodama)

After four long years, the sights and sounds of picnickers beneath the cherry blossom trees returned to Tokyo’s Ueno Park as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Families and friends enjoyed food and drinks under the colorful trees at the popular park in Taito Ward on March 19, the first Sunday after cherry blossoms began to bloom in the capital.

“Cherry blossoms are best viewed with food and drinks,” said Hiroko Fujita, 61, who came from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, with her husband.

Since 2013, the couple had visited the park every spring with a fried chicken lunch. Then the pandemic hit.

“It’s been so long since I last enjoyed the lively atmosphere of the park,” she said.

Over the past three springs, visitors could enjoy strolling among the cherry trees. However, gatherings involving eating and drinking were prohibited in Ueno Park, as they were in many parks across the country.

“We came a bit too early (since the trees aren’t in full bloom yet), but it’s nice with the lovely weather,” said Mitsuharu Miura, 27, who came from Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward with two friends he has known since high school.

Roughly a third of the flowers were blooming against the backdrop of a clear blue sky that showed no trace of the previous day’s cold rain.