If the sight of blooming daffodils and crocuses has you excited about the on-set of spring this month, then you’ll understand Japan’s national adoration of the Sakura Cherry Blossom, now well on its way to full bloom across most of the country. Our wild flowers have nothing on the pink sensation that takes hold of Japan from late January until May. This natural symbol of renewal calls for a well-timed journey east, along with a number of other eyebrow raising prospects this year.
Since 2014, the pound has increased in value against the yen by around 30%, making Japan a popular destination for travellers wanting to see their money go a little further in 2015. With a population that boasts the highest life expectancy of any country in the entire world, and a capital city that offers up the greatest number of Michelin starred restaurants of any city in the world, Japan is certainly worth a visit; if only to analyse what’s behind those high life-expectancy figures (...presumably the food).
2015 is also the year that a new bullet train opens from Tokyo to culturally enriched Kanazawa. Think well-preserved Samurai and Geisha districts as well as impressive temples, a 17th century castle garden and a wealth of museums. City-to-city used to take four hours by train, but the journey has now been chopped to 2.5 hours, offering a more realistic opportunity to see more of Japan if you’re Tokyo-bound.
The bright-lights, big city allure of Tokyo is obvious and completely well-founded, but there are plenty more draw cards under this island nation’s belt, especially where the best cherry blossom views are concerned. For heart-stopping views of the cherry blossom this season, look to Nagoya Castle in Aichi, Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto or Hirosaki Castle. The best parks to view the blossom include Nara Park, Sengki Park in Hiroshima and Ueno and Yoyogi in Tokyo.
Japan’s cherry blossom is more than just picture-worthy though. To the Japanese, what this bounteous pink bloom marks is a change of seasons, the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. To get a little more philosophical, the transient nature of this pretty plant can be seen as an allegory for the ephemerality of life itself. Buddhism is ever-present in Japanese culture and this interpretation of the blossom is celebrated. Like the blossom, our lives are not forever, reminding us to value the moments in which we exist. Our time is now.