Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at Sankei-en, Yokohama

Cherry tree blossoms (sakura) at Sankei-en, Yokohama

I will get back to my Kyoto Postcards, but I wanted to talk a little about cherry blossoms first, before April ends.

I have written about the ohanami, or cherry blossom viewing, culture in Japan previously. As I wrote back then, one of the things I miss about not living in Japan is the cherry blossoms in the spring. For this trip back home, I wanted to be sure not to miss the cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossom trees, or sakura no ki, are everywhere in Japan. They are often planted in school yards and playgrounds, in Buddhist temple or shinto shrine grounds, in the corner of a garden, or along the side of a road. These old trees are growing on the grounds of an elementary school.

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But there are certain places where the cherry trees are just that much more spectacular. One of those places is Sankei-en (三渓園), a beautiful garden in Yokohama. It was conceived and built by a rich silk merchant, Tomitaro Hara (who used the pseudonym Sankei Hara), a former teacher turned successful businessman (he married one of his former students and was adopted into her wealthy family to take over the family trade). Tomitaro apparently had an artistic side - he patronised many artists and his art collection was of great renown, though sadly it was lost during the chaos of the post-World War II period. For his gardens, he liked to collect beautiful old, historical buildings from around the country that were in various states of disrepair, and have them reassembled on his property. So, Sankei-en is a rich man’s indulgence, but executed with such taste. In 1906, he opened the gardens to the public for free, and even provided the visitors clean drinking water and firewood, so that they could enjoy a little picnic while appreciating his creation. Nowadays the gardens are run by a non-profit foundation, and the entrance fee for adults is 500 yen.

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Sankei-en is one of the top places for ohanami (sakura or cherry blossom viewing) in the Tokyo metropolitan area - and tends to be a bit less crowded than the ones in central Tokyo such as Yoyogi Park and Shinjuku Gyoen. Plus, it’s fairly close to where my mother lives. The weather in the Tokyo area has been very temperamental, so it was difficult to gauge the right day to go. On the first day when it was not supposed to rain and even some sun was promised, I grabbed my camera and went to capture some sakura. Despite the overcast sky and the chilly temperatures, it was well worth it.

Sankei-en, Yokohama in early April

I did say that Sankei-en tends to be less crowded than other sakura viewing destinations. Still, this being Japan, and despite the weather, there were plenty of other people enjoying the blossoms.

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These folks are determined to enjoy their bento lunches and do a proper ohanami under the cherry trees.

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For people who forgot to bring a bento lunch, all cherry blossom viewing destinations have plenty of food stalls (yatai 屋台) set up, selling various snacks and beverages. Here they are selling yakisoba noodles, chicken karaage and hard boiled eggs.

sankeien-yatai1.jpg

Sankei-en even has a small ramen shop. There’s also a place to enjoy matcha tea and wagashi (Japanese sweets) in the small museum, where there is a small exhibit about the gardens and its creator, Tomitaro Hara.

sankeien-ramen.jpg

Sankei-en also has a couple of tea houses (茶屋) that are used for tea ceremonies. Here are some girls dressed in kimonos, most likely making their way to one. They made me want to don a kimono myself the next time I come to these gardens.

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These ladies were arriving a bit late for their tea ceremony.

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Back to the more mundane world of snacks, these folks are lined up to buy oden and kushi dango (skewered rice dumplings). I joined them after taking this photo…

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The mitarashi dango were okay - the sauce was a bit too sweet for my taste.

sankeien-mitarashidango

But the oroshi dango - the same rice dumplings served with a mound of grated daikon radish, a little soy sauce and a sprinkle of nori - were delicious. I had a glass cup of hot sake with my dango - after all, what is ohanami without a little tipple?

sankeien-oroshidango

Practical details

Sankei-en is a little hard to get to, but well worth the effort. The easiest way is probably to take a Yokohama City bus (no. 8 or no. 148) from the no. 2 stop at the bus terminal at Yokohama Station. The bus terminal is at the Higashi or East entrance of the station, next to Sogo department store. The stop to get off at is Honmoku Sankeien-mae (本牧三渓園前). The fare is 210 yen one way for adults, less for children, and you can use your PASMO or SUICA card. The park is about a 5 minute walk from the bus stop. Plan on spending at least 3 to 4 hours in the park. Afterwards, you can take the no. 8 bus back towards Yokohama station and hop off at Chinatown for some good, cheap eats, if the hardboiled eggs and dumplings didn’t fill you up.

You can download an English brochure of Sankeien from this page on the official web site. The park is open from 9am to 5pm (during the season the park also opens at night, and the cherry trees are illuminated). Adult admission is 500 yen.

If you are planning a trip to Japan and are determined to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom, it can be a bit tricky. Generally speaking, the cherry blossom season in the Tokyo (Kanto) and Kyoto-Osaka-Nagoya (Kansai) regions starts around the last week of March and lasts until the 2nd or 3rd week of April. This is when the somei yoshino variety of cherry tree is in full bloom; many people regard this variety as the most quintessential, and beautiful, of the flowering cherry trees. If you’re going to the southern part of mainland Japan, namely Kyushu, it’s fairly safe to assume that the season will start about a week earlier; to the north of Tokyo the season is a week to 2 weeks later. Okinawa is too tropical for the somei yoshino variety - their cherry trees have a deeper pink kind of flower.

In any case, if you can, please do try to see Japan during the ohanami season. You will never forget it.

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Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Wish you would've posted this when the blossoms were at full bloom :D this place looks gorgeous and I've never heard of it (not that I'm in Yokohama much...) We went to Inokashira Park this year and it was crowded as hell and freeeeeezing! I've never done a hanami party with Japanese people before (hubby and I are gaijin) so I'm always curious to see what kind of picnic they bring. I saw a lot of potato chips, KFC, and pizza but also karaage, potato salad, and yakisoba. Of course I saw a lot of beer, wine, sake, and Chu-Hi too. What did we have? A bag of potato chips, giant weiners from Family Mart, and their fried chicken. I drank sakura and peach flavored Chu-Hi, I really miss them when it's not sakura season! I grabbed some miso dango while my hubby looked on in horror and disgust.

Sadly, this will be our last cherry blossoming viewing in Japan. We are moving back to the good ole US of A after 3 years of cherry blossom magic. I'll really miss seeing all the trees everywhere and the different types of blossoms. It's a memory from our time here that I'll truly treasure forever!

Kristin | 16 April, 2010 - 14:22

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Oh, such beauty! Thanks for showing us the "food side" of Cherry Blossom viewings. I'm so envious, I can't wait to take a trip to Japan and experience the beauty of Cherry Blossoms first hand.

Van | 16 April, 2010 - 14:30

Re: Sakura, Sakura

Lovely pictures! We've been celebrating hanami in Holland since 2008 -- it's not the same of course, but it's fun anyway! The first time we tried to make dango... #FAIL (photos here) We had never actually eaten any so we've no idea how it's supposed to taste, but this was not a good experience anyway LOL.

We've been to the only gathering of Japanese cherry blossom trees in Holland on Sunday and the weather was about the same (clouded and chilly). Of course the entourage is not nearly as beautiful here as at Sankei-en!

My hanami post is up at Graasland.

Gnoe | 16 April, 2010 - 14:33

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Lovely! My dad was the same, loved the savory dango best.

sheri | 16 April, 2010 - 16:58

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Ohh . .this totally reminds me of last year when I went to Japan to see the cherry blossoms for the first time. I went to Shijuku Gyoen (which is GORGEOUS!) but it was a cold overcast day as well, so my pictures looks sort of like yours do.

This year I went to DC for the first time to see cherry blossoms. It's not as dramatic as Japan, but it's still a sight to see!

Tiny Urban Kitchen | 16 April, 2010 - 23:08

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Beautiful photos, just gorgeious blossoms! I would love to be there. I enjoy seeing all the local foods. Thank you for sharing that with us!

Lyndsey | 16 April, 2010 - 23:36

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

I've never been to a "proper" cherry blossom viewing, but I'd sure like to at some time. My alma mater, University of Washington, has an area called the Quad filled with large cherry trees and I love going there for the two weeks they're in bloom. People tend to go there for cherry blossom viewing, and it's rather touristy when it's that time of the year.

CS | 17 April, 2010 - 01:28

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Nice! My first trip to Japan was during cherry blossom time. We stayed in Kyoto during the prime time. Tons of people!

When we later stayed at an onsen, one part of the meal was a special item for the season:

Cherry-blossom infused rice, wrapped in a cherry leaf, in a little bit thicker than simple syrup that also had cherry blossoms. This was in a cylindrical shape, and the filling was, quite naturally, broiled eel!

It was delicious!

Gregg | 17 April, 2010 - 10:52

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

おかげで非常にあなたの写真の
私は日本で数年前の花シーズンとても美しい桜の中でした!
私はあなたの仕事は貴重なものですね!
これはGoogleの翻訳ミスを許している

Jack | 17 April, 2010 - 15:06

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Beautiful spot! Thanks for sharing. I have been to Japan in the spring twice and just missed the cherry blossoms both times. Luckily, we have many cherry trees here in Vancouver Canada (many, originally gifts from Japan).

Jacquie | 17 April, 2010 - 20:01

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

So beautiful! One of my dreams is to do a proper ohanami in Japan =)

Protocol Snow | 19 April, 2010 - 00:56

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

What beautiful blossoms! Someday I WILL see the cherry blossoms in Japan. The closest I've been is the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco. Those dango look so delicious!

Soo-In | 19 April, 2010 - 21:50

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

The San Francisco one doesn't really have many flowers and the festival is not really focused on the flowers at all. Since you're already in the country I'd recommend going to Washington DC for their annual cherry blossom festival! They have 100 year old cherry trees there which are gifts from Tokyo. I went this year and it was absolutely amazing.

It's not the same as Japan but it's closer, hehe.

alice c | 21 April, 2010 - 00:24

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Great shots, I want to see the country one day

Marie | 20 April, 2010 - 10:21

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

I've always wanted to go view Cherry Blossoms, but I've always been afraid of the crowds. Oh, maybe next year.

I am terribly sorry to be off topic, but did you hear there will be an Iron Chef UK?

MN | 20 April, 2010 - 10:32

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Hi MN, I know it's on this week, but I'm in France at the moment with no TV (except for French TV) so I'm going to have to try to get it somehow next week through nefarious means...

maki | 29 April, 2010 - 09:23

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

These cherry blossom tree photos are so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing these with us.

You descriptions makes me want to visit Japan to get some of my own photos to enjoy.

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Gemma | 22 April, 2010 - 11:27

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

Another great place Maki. :) All these place I missed when I lived in Japan. Well, they're on my list now, and I'll get to them someday. Thanks for the lovely photos!

Shari | 29 April, 2010 - 08:06

Re: Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at ...

I used to live 10 minutes (walking) from Sankei-en Garden my first 15 years of my life. My "gaijin" dad would call it Sunken Garden, for many years I thought it was below sea level and that was the attraction. He worked at the nearby naval base when there were many naval bases nearby shortly after WW II Japan was American occupied. People were so kind, the culture and country were also beutiful. The food, I'll never forget nothing compares. I have been living in California for the past 30 years but have had several opportunities to go back, each time for Hanami at my Sunken Garden as well as other locations. All the parks have Hanami, there is a former Naval golf course near Negishi, Asahi-dai and its called Shirin ko-en now, its between for Hanami. Its a beautiful country with beautiful people.Thanks for sharing all the great stories.

Arichan | 2 June, 2010 - 22:58

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