Oh, to be in Japan right now: the sakura, or cherry blossoms, have opened in Tokyo! Nothing heralds the arrival of spring in Japan quite like sakura in bloom.
According to japan-guide.com's Tokyo Report, the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park have just opened and are expected to be in full bloom by early next week. No doubt the hype surrounding hanami (flower-viewing) parties is building; in just a few days, Ueno Park will look something like this...
|上野公園花見：Ueno Park hanami, March 23, 2013|
Predicting when the sakura will bloom is something Japan takes very seriously, as the iconic flowers are not only culturally significant--among other things, they represent the beautiful, fleeting nature of life--but are also important for tourism and the economy. (Case in point: during my first trip to Japan, we missed our flight back to the U.S. because we were stuck in traffic after viewing the cherry blossoms in a very congested Ueno Park, which had been practically empty just a few days prior.)
Every year, organizations like the Japan Weather Association publish their sakura forecasts for cities throughout Japan, basing their predictions on weather trends while also considering past years' results. This year, the blossoms have opened slightly earlier than average--Tokyo's representative tree at Yasukuni Shrine began blooming on March 21--but during our 2013 trip, they set the record for the earliest opening since record-keeping began in 1953.
As with plants and flowers in the U.S., southern areas' warmer climates produce the country's first blooms as early as January (Okinawa), and northern areas' cooler temperatures delay the opening as late as May (Hokkaido).
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