Day 6: Hanami in Ueno Park

DAYS of basking in the beauty of the sakura season across three prefectures and finally on Day 6, I get to party under its canopy in one of the most popular hanami spots in Tokyo- Ueno Park.

Hanami at Ueno Park, one of Tokyo’s most popular spots during the sakura season

It’s been a week after the first bud bloomed in central Tokyo and a few days into the second week (around this same time last year) when the sakura reached its peak bloom, I was offered a spot on a mat under the cherry blossom trees. At last, a sit down (as opposed to walking) hanami for me!

My hanami party clique
Our next mat neighbor

The blossoms of Ueno Park were lush but not as prolific as the ones I’ve seen in the other popular venues. Were we late? No, that’s for sure. It’s just that the occasional rain shower and gusts of cold wind were detaching the delicate petals off its branches prematurely.

The path crossing Shinobazu Pond

But whatever the weather condition and the state of blooms were, it didn’t matter. Nobody noticed it at all. The big crowd who gathered within the grounds of the large public park for the Japanese tradition of hanami came to admire the beauty of the blossoms even if it’s the last petal hanging on the branch.

Japanese girls under a cherry blossom tree

The hanami, in modern day Japan, is mostly about having an outdoor party under the sakura during the bright of day or the moonlit night. The latter is called yozakara (meaning “night sakura”), which explained the presence of the paper lanterns. These are hung to enhance the festivity of the season and illuminate the cherry blossom trees and the picnic area.

Lanterns light up for the yozakara (night sakura) party
Hey, hey, hey, it’s Mr. Hanami Man!
Hanami funk. Young musicians provide free entertainment at the park

There are 1,000 cherry blossom trees along the Ueno Park’s central pathway and these are the crowd drawers during this season. 

A thousand C=cherry blossom trees line this walkway
Adding to its popularity, I believe, is its proximity to the public transport system. The park is just located beside the Ueno Station making it very accessible to the commuters toting the picnic basket (or even the luggage, to some).
Ueno Station is a train stop
The exit heading to Ueno Park
A few meters from Ueno Station exit is an entrance to Ueno Park

The park area was originally part of one of the city’s largest and wealthiest temples, the Kaneiji Temple, the family temple of the ruling Tokugawa clan in the Edo Period, and built orientated in the northeast of the capital to protect the city from evil.
Ueno Park guide

After it was left in almost complete ruin after the Boshin War, the Kaneiji temple grounds was converted into Japan’s first Western style parks and was opened to the public in 1873.

Surviving the devastation is the Kiyomisu Kannondo, a temple
built in the image of Kiyomizu-dera overlooking Lake Biwako in Kyoto. Today it
is recognized as a national treasure and one of the oldest surviving temples in
Tokyo.
The ancient temple of Kiyomizu Kannon-do at night. 
Ema
Cleansing ritual before entering the temple.

The ritual gong at the temple’s doorway
The temple is dedicated to Kosodate Kannon, goddess of childbearing and child-raising, and is often visited by couples who are trying to conceive.
The view from the ancient temple’s wooden balcony that
extends over the hillside is panoramic. It offers a view of the cherry blossom
tree-lined walkway and path to the island at the Shinobazu Pond (made in the
image of Lake Biwako) where the temple hall of Bentendo stands.
Seen from the wooden balcony of Kiyomizu Kannon-do, the path leading to Bentendo.
Bentendo temple at night
On sakura season. Pop-up food stalls line up the walkway leading to Bentendo temple at the center of the Shinabazu Pond.
The Bentendo hall
Incense offering
Inside the Bentendo Hall
Elegance of tradition amidst the crowd.
Within Ueno Park are its other attractions—the Tokyo
National Museum, National Museum for Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art
Museum, the National Sceince Museum and Japan’s first zoological garden, the
the Ueno Zoo. These I will have to explore on the next visit.
Shinobazu Pond was made in the image of Lake Biwako
Swan lake
Night fell and the lanterns were lit up. It was time to
party. Kanpai!

*****


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