It’s cherry blossom season in Japan, but not everyone is ready to celebrate

It’s the season for Hanami again, with people across Japan looking to admire the cherry blossoms’ pale pink petals and celebrate spring with family and friends.

This year, Sunday marked the start of Tokyo’s cherry blossom viewing season, just ahead of the last day of the quasi-state of COVID-19 emergency in the capital and 17 other prefectures on Monday.

But even though near-emergency measures have been lifted, between 20,000 and 40,000 new daily cases of coronavirus have been reported across the country in recent days, prompting many people to wonder if they are allowed to go out and about. enjoy cherry blossoms, and if so, to what extent.

Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government’s COVID-19 subcommittee, urged people to maintain preventative measures, including wearing masks, when viewing cherry blossoms and to avoid high-risk parties involving drinking. and eat with a large number of people.

Municipalities that operate large parks well known for cherry blossom viewing welcome visitors, but on a limited basis.

“Every year, junior employees are invited to reserve spaces at Ueno Park for hanami,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Friday. “But we want people to avoid having such parties where people sit down and eat and drink, and just walk around ‘in the park to look at the flowers.’

“People may think it should be fine because it’s outside. But we have had clusters of barbecues in the past,” Koike said. “We have to be vigilant on a possible rebound (in the cases).”

A woman takes photos of cherry blossoms at Ueno Park in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI

Before the pandemic, residents and visitors to the capital often flocked to the places with the best cherry trees or scenic boating lakes and rivers such as Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, where they went to see tree lighting at nightー yozakura ー along the banks of the Meguro River. Organizers often set up food stalls.

But as was the case last year, these events have been canceled or cut short.

For example, Shinjuku Gyoen limits the number of participants between March 19 and April 10. Those wishing to visit the park must submit an application in advance – online, by postcard or by fax. The festival along the Meguro River, including the evening illumination, has been canceled, just like last year.

In Tokyo, cherry blossoms are expected to reach full bloom on Monday.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura took a slightly different tone from his Tokyo counterpart, saying people can go out for hanami, but not with large numbers and only with a little alcohol.

“I will not ask people not to go to see the cherry blossoms and not to drink alcohol, even a little,” Yoshimura said on Friday. “But I want people to avoid partying with a lot of people.”

Cherry blossom viewing season generally begins around the end of March and continues through May, depending on location.

On Sunday, the Meteorological Agency said Tokyo cherry blossoms had started blooming earlier in the day, four days earlier than the average year, after the agency confirmed that a Somei-Yoshino cherry tree in Yasukuni shrine in the capital, which is monitored by the agency, had started to blossom.

According to Weather News, cherry blossoms started blooming in Osaka on Wednesday and are expected to do so in neighboring Kyoto on Thursday.

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