DAYS of basking in the beauty of the sakura season across three prefectures and finally on Day 6, I get to party under its canopy in one of the most popular hanami spots in Tokyo- Ueno Park.

It’s been a week after the first bud bloomed in central Tokyo and a few days into the second week (around this same time last year) when the sakura reached its peak bloom, I was offered a spot on a mat under the cherry blossom trees. At last, a sit down (as opposed to walking) hanami for me!

The blossoms of Ueno Park were lush but not as prolific as the ones I’ve seen in the other popular venues. Were we late? No, that’s for sure. It’s just that the occasional rain shower and gusts of cold wind were detaching the delicate petals off its branches prematurely.

But whatever the weather condition and the state of blooms were, it didn’t matter. Nobody noticed it at all. The big crowd who gathered within the grounds of the large public park for the Japanese tradition of hanami came to admire the beauty of the blossoms even if it’s the last petal hanging on the branch.

The hanami, in modern day Japan, is mostly about having an outdoor party under the sakura during the bright of day or the moonlit night. The latter is called yozakara (meaning “night sakura”), which explained the presence of the paper lanterns. These are hung to enhance the festivity of the season and illuminate the cherry blossom trees and the picnic area.

There are 1,000 cherry blossom trees along the Ueno Park’s central pathway and these are the crowd drawers during this season. Adding to its popularity, I believe, is its proximity to the public transport system. The park is just located beside the Ueno Station making it very accessible to the commuters toting the picnic basket (or even the luggage, to some).

The park area was originally part of one of the city’s largest and wealthiest temples, the Kaneiji Temple, the family temple of the ruling Tokugawa clan in the Edo Period, and built orientated in the northeast of the capital to protect the city from evil.

After it was left in almost complete ruin after the Boshin War, the Kaneiji temple grounds was converted into Japan’s first Western style parks and was opened to the public in 1873.

"Surviving the devastation is the Kiyomisu Kannondo, a temple built in the image of Kiyomizu-dera overlooking Lake Biwako in Kyoto. Today, the temple is now recognized as a national treasure and one of the oldest surviving temples in Tokyo.

The view from the ancient temple’s wooden balcony that extends over the hillside is panoramic. It offers a view of the cherry blossom tree-lined walkway and path to the island at the Shinobazu Pond (made in the image of Lake Biwako) where the temple hall of Bentendo stands.

Within Ueno Park are its other attractions—the Tokyo National Museum, National Museum for Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the National Sceince Museum and Japan’s first zoological garden, the the Ueno Zoo. These are the spots I still need to explore on my next visit.

Night fell and the lanterns were lit up. It was time to party. Kanpai!

Email me at jinggoysalvador@yahoo.com. For more lifestyle & travel stories, visit http://apples-and-lemons.blogspot.com andhttp://jeepneyjinggoy.blogspot.com.

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