Nothing like making friends and enjoying the fleeting beauty of a Japanese spring together.

Japanese reporter Ikuna Kamezawa breathed deeply as the smells of cherry blossom trees and all things growing wafted to her nose. Spring had arrived in full over here in Japan, bringing with it a sense of new beginnings and adventures.

She had come to view the cherry blossoms of Ueno Park, a spot popular among tourists and locals alike for its stunning nature and spacious compound. It was perfect weather for a Saturday, which meant that there were plenty of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous pink and white sakura flowers the park was known for.

▼ It was a little crowded, but that was to be expected on a weekend.

▼ Ikuna surmised she might have had better luck finding an empty spot to sit on a weekday.

Numerous plastic picnic sheets had been placed at the sides of roads and under trees, where friends and family sipped bear and socialized while enjoying nature’s beauty. Not Ikuna, however, as she came alone and was already regretting the decision of not bringing coworkers with her.

▼ She was about to give up finding a nice spot and head back to the office
when something caught her eye.

“Everyone is welcome here. Let’s view cherry blossoms together!”
the message read in Japanese.

▼ Looking up from the sign, she became aware of a group of young people — seemingly of different nationalities — chatting amongst themselves.

▼ Despite looking more like a group of close friends,
it became apparent that everyone had never met before that day.

The organizer of the event was a 24-year old man who, in order to reserve such a prime location, had slept through the cold night on hard ground the day before.

“I wanted to create a space for people to connect,” he said with a bright smile on his face.

▼ Inviting strangers to join their party, Ikuna noted that those who did sit down with them
were mostly foreigners or elderly people.

▼ Nevertheless, people were generally curious about such an arrangement.

▼ It was a shared space where anyone could rest their feet
and leave whenever they wanted to.

▼ Performers wandered from group to group,
and joyful laughter erupted wherever they went.

▼ A samurai guitarist from the Edo period added some musical entertainment…

▼ …while a street magician came to impress us with sleight of hand.

▼ “Pick a card and I will turn it into a cherry blossom,” said the crafty magic man.

▼ Lanterns winked on as the sun set, transforming the park into a magical kingdom.

▼ Time really flies when you are having so much fun.

▼ Ikuna spotted Mr. Movie Thief, a mascot advocating anti-piracy,
who seemed a tad out of place here.

▼ When a comedy duo called Gajumaru stopped at their space…

▼ …everyone chuckled with laughter at their butt-smacking antics.

▼ Although the beautiful lanterns would be switched off at 8 p.m.,
the park itself closes at 10 p.m.

▼ Which was plenty of time for more drinking and merrymaking.

The organizer considered his project a success, attracting more than 100 visitors and 15 nationalities to his little corner. Many of them sought to learn a new language, be it Japanese or English, and exchange contacts.

▼ It seemed the usually quiet and reserved Ikuna made some new friends, too.

As our Japanese reporter left Ueno Park with a smile on her lips and her steps feeling lighter than when she first came, Ikuna wondered idly if other hanami spots in Japan were as fascinating as this.

“I guess there’s only one way to find out,” she mused, already planning her next cherry blossom viewing party.

Park information
Ueno Park / 上野公園
Address: 110-0007, Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Ueno Park, 5-20
〒110-0007 東京都台東区上野公園5−20
Hours: 5:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.

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[ Read in Japanese ]