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Tokyo | It's Cherry Blossom Season






What to expect in this blog
⌲ Guide to Cherry Blossoms
 Ueno at Night
 Rainbow Cotton Candy
 Sensoji Temple, classic Japan experience with a temple and shopping street
 Gotokuji Temple, the origin of the lucky cat  
 Meiji Jingu Shrine

 Kappabashi, kitchenware shopping street
 Shibuya - an authentic local sushi restaurant experience with Tenkazushi


Cherry Blossom is one of the most important symbols of Japan, its significance is displayed on the back of the 100 yen coin. Though a lot of other countries, such as the US, Canada, France, China, Taiwan, Korea... and so on also have cherry blossoms, there are no other country than Japan that takes Cherry Blossoms that seriously. This is deeply ingrained due to the Buddhist influence. '

Below is the Quad from University of Washington Seattle, where I had the luxury of getting my college degree. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to walk by the Quad each day to go to Japanese class. 



Hanami, (花見), means flower viewing. It is a traditions where people sit in parks to appreciate the beauty of Cherry Blossoms. People check the blooming forecast called Sakura-Zensen (櫻前線) or Cherry Blossom front, which is announced by the weather bureau on when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. It starts south in the Okinawa Islands around January, then makes its way up to Kyushu blooming in mid-March, to Honshu with Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe) blooming in late march and Kanto (Tokyo) mid to late march, lastly ending in Hokkaido in late April. 

Yozakura, (夜桜) means night sakura. It's special cherry blossom viewing at night. This is similar to autumn time night viewing of the Japanese maple. You can find Yozakura in major parks around Japan and some gardens and temples. This year, I went to Rikugien 六義園 which is a Japanese garden in the north of Tokyo. They are famous for both Yozakura and autumn maples. Typically night viewing will start after sunset and ends around 9pm. 


 

This trip to Tokyo was an unplanned surprise. Work brought me there for a quarterly business review meeting during the week just prior to full blooming of the cherry blossoms. On the first night, we went to Gonpachi, which is the restaurant where Kill Bill had their fighting scene filmed. Just outside of the restaurant was also a big Cherry Blossom tree, way to set the scene for an amazing work dinner! 



Ueno at night
Apart from the Cherry Blossoms, there's also one place I love to go at night, which is just near the south of Ueno station. I don't have a street name for you because most of Japan actually doesn't have street names, rather they have intersection numbers. But google maps is included below. 

This street south of Ueno station is lit up in neon lights and offers a lot of restaurants and bars to have a bite at. One of my favorite is Pork Cutlet Yamabe. It is this small family owned restaurant with just 2 floors. All they serve is Japanese pork cutlet, but man it is made with the most precision and care you can imagine. That's the great thing about Japanese culinary, focus on one thing and be the expert at that one thing. 

 



 


Giant Rainbow Cotton Candy
This has been a huge hit since they introduced it in Harajuku, and now they have 4 stores across Japan. When you walk down Harajuku's famous Takeshita Street, you can see a lot of people here with this candy. Head down Takeshita street and about halfway down it will be on the right hand side upstairs, the place is called "Totti Candy Factory". Sometimes the wait is long so on the weekends they will charge you 200yen and give you a queueing ticket to come back in about 20 minutes or so. But it's well worth the wait - Each Layer is a different flavor! 



Sensoji Temple
I have been to Sensoji everytime since the very first time I've been to Tokyo. It's a one stop shop to get the best of the Japanese tourism experience. If you don't have a lot of time, I'd highly recommend to head straight for Sensoji. Not only can you experience a temple where you can get lucky draw (Omikuji), there's also many stores around here where you can shop for souvenirs and traditional Japanese goods (example picture below is a chopsticks and tableware specialty store) From Sensoji you can also get a direct view of the Tokyo SkyTree tower. 

 



Gotokuji Temple - The Origin of Lucky Cats
This temple is said to be the origin of lucky cats. The modern lucky cat designs you see are what lucky cats look like after the influence of Chinese culture. There are hundreds of lucky cats at this temple, and even Cherry Blossoms in Spring and maple leaves in autumn. It's just 20min by train west of Tokyo's Shinjuku station. In my other blog here you can find a guide on how to take the train to Gotokuji Temple. 



Meiji Jingu Shrine
This is a large temple just beside Harajuku station and was built by emperor Meiji dedicated to his wife Shōken. Upon entering the temple grounds, you walk around 10 - 15 minutes through a massive forest with over 120,000 trees. The grandeur is hard to put into words. You are able to get lucky draw (omikuji) in English here as it is popular amongst international tourists. 

To the left is the Sake Barrels (Kazaridaru) on the way to the temple. They are meant to be decorative. The photo on the right is a lucky charm (Omamori) for the purpose of winning in life. You can also get ones for travel safety, love, safe labor or child delivery etc 


Kappabashi - Kitchenware shopping street
This is an area to the west of Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Station) where all they sell is everything Kitchen related, from high end knives to plastic display food. If you are looking for high end Japanese knives, I'd highly recommend this hole in the wall called "Tsubaya". While I was shopping there, calls from restaurant chefs kept coming in for the owner to take on knife sharpening jobs, you can tell they are well known in the neighborhood. The owner also sharpened my knife just after I bought it, which was a really nice gesture. The other shops don't really offer this service. 


 


This small shop is just down the road from Tsubaya if you walk east towards Sky Tree tower. If you're into Origami, you should definitely check it out. 


Shibuya - an authentic local sushi restaurant experience with Tenkazushi
This is the famous crossing - the busiest in the world, with up to 2,500 people crossing with each signal change. You can get a very good view from the Shibuya JR station just nearby. 


Shibuya is also a popular spot for young people to shop for the latest fashion trends. The 109 building is a 7 floor shopping mall full of women's clothing targeted at young adults who browse the top fashion magazines such as Vivi, CanCam, and Popteen. 


Head towards the left of 109 and you will find Tenkazushi on the left side, down the stairs to a cozy sushi-go-around restaurant in the basement. In the restaurant, you see mostly salary men, who just got off a long day of work and are still dressed in their suits. But I love the friendliness of this restaurants, with their sushi chefs in the middle. To order, you shout out what items you want, and the chefs will hand it over to you directly through the gap just above the sushi belt.



Have you been to anywhere else with beautiful cherry blossoms? Is there another country you'd go purely for the food? 

I hope you've found this blog post useful, I've written extensively about travel in Japan. For more guides, look for the Travel - Japan label on the left to read more.








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