In March 2013 my husband and I traveled to Tokyo (Japan) for work related reasons. We were thrilled to hear that this year, the cherry blossoms had bloomed two weeks earlier than usual, giving us a chance to experience Tokyo in full bloom.
Flocks of tourists visit Tokyo during this period every year from around the archipelago and from overseas, and although the massive earthquake that struck Japan two years ago has reduced the number of visitors, the cherry blossom season remains one of the most popular times to visit Japan.
[see: Sightseeing in Tokyo]
There is a lot to see in Tokyo itself and if you want to appreciate cherry blossoms in their grandeur, go to one of the places listed [see: Cherry blossoms viewing]
This will give you an opportunity to see avenues of cherry blossom trees, a perfect background for priceless photographs, depicting that typical Japanese snapshot you have been waiting for.
“Hanami”, which means, “flower viewing” in Japanese, is the traditional custom of viewing the beauty of flowers, referring mostly to cherry blossoms. The flowers are in bloom for only one or two weeks, so festivals or special events are usually timed to coincide with this period.
Tokyo has one of the most extensive rapid transit systems in the world
You may find it overwhelming just looking at the map of the network. It is however, the most convenient way to travel around Tokyo. As a tourist, if you know that you will be visiting for a couple of days, especially if you are planning to travel out of town, consider buying a travel system pass in advance. Transportation in Tokyo is costly and you will save money if you plan ahead and buy a pass online before you land in Japan [see: Japan Rail pass]
Planning your itinerary in advance and consulting the subway map beforehand will make it easier for you to navigate the intricate network of trains, metros and local lines. Although signs in English are available throughout the system, you may want to consider downloading an application onto your smartphone,or carry a pre-printed map, so you always have reference at hand. Taxis are incredibly expensive, so try as much as possible not to hop on a cab, unless you really have to! [see: Japan subway map]
Food in Tokyo is just glorious
Surely you are a fan of Japanese food if you have chosen this country as a holiday destination. It is often hard to communicate in English at restaurants outside touristy areas, but you’ll be glad to know that most restaurants carry pictures of dishes on their menu. Before traveling, familiarize yourself with the types of dishes that are available in restaurants, so you can choose without too much trouble.
Lost in translation when visiting Tokyo
There will be times when you will feel lost in translation when visiting Tokyo. This is my third time in the city over a span of 30 years and each time I’ve experienced moments of frustration. The big rush of people, the unfamiliar signs, the difficulty in finding someone you can communicate with… it can make you feel uncomfortable, but the Japanese are incredibly courteous, they will go out of their way to try and help you, even if you don’t speak the same language. That alone, will make you want to go on and explore the magnificent Japanese culture, especially if you are there when the cherry blossoms are out.
Tips for places to stay and restaurants
[see: Budget hotels in Tokyo]
Stay at a ryokanto have the full Japanese experience. And whether you are dining over conveyor belt sushi, savoring yakitori, or slurping on a bowl of noodles, try Japanese sake, served in a glass overflowing onto a bowl.
For a spectacular view of the city at night, treat yourself at the Bar at the Mandarin Oriental or at the Park Hyatt.
“Sakura, Sakura” – Japanese Folk song
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
In fields and villages
As far as you can see.
Is it a mist, or clouds?
Fragrant in the morning sun.
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Flowers in full bloom.