CHERRY BLOSSOM TIME
Seeing cherry blossoms in bloom is the main focus of this, my first visit to Tokyo in 50+ years. And the sun is shining on a perfect blue-sky day.
My ‘tours by locals’ guide Hiroshi, a calm retired businessman, is somewhat non-plussed with the request, but with a little zigzagging around Tokyo in trains and taxis respectfully playing to my eccentricity, he delivers in spades (and blooming blossoms).
Walking through the fish market stalls, there is no cherry blossom; only fish. But a quick taxi ride away, and a walk in the park, I’m rewarded. Blossoms keep falling on my head in the cold gusts of wind, (even land on my lip as you’ll see in one of the photos). Trellises of budding wisteria around the lake trigger a momentary impulse to return in a month’s time for more joy and beauty. (“By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism,” so says Pope Francis in ‘Laudate Si’.)
A stop for a cup of the bitter ‘matcha’ green tea in a traditional Japanese teahouse on the lake presents an opportunity to know little more about the growth of Tokyo since my last visit. Away in the distance through today’s soaring skyscrapers is Tokyo Tower, the tallest building in all of Tokyo back in 1966, even taller than the Eifel Tower.
I am not expecting to see Mt Fuji, but Hiroshi knows just the 40th floor vantage point. The winds have blown all clouds away, and there it is in all its glory in the distance, beyond the glass, framed by Tokyo Tower and taller office buildings.
I wonder why most of the other diners in our stop for a Teppanyaki fish lunch are decidedly more elderly (and quieter) than the masses on the streets. Surely it couldn’t be the ten-dollar price tag? No, the owner once ran this as a leading seafood restaurant before the tall building was built, and older customers (including Hiroshi obviously) continue to patronise his establishment.
Seemingly half-way around Tokyo by train and we alight at Ueno Park with its five-storey Buddhist Pagoda and golden Shinto Toshogu shrine; in the gardens, giant peony blooms, sheltered from the sun under paper parasols, add the colour to replace the now fading cherry blossoms floating in the wind.
The cherry blossom was also important to the samurai of feudal Japan; it was their duty to simultaneously realise the inevitably to death and release any fear of it. Their lives, marked by battle and conflict, were often cut short, and the fallen cherry blossom became the symbol of that short life.