Shinjuku Gyoen garden is right in the middle of the city, and has two different types of cold-weather sakura.

In Japan, there’s no surer sign of spring than the sakura. The cherry blossoms are loved for a variety of reasons, and one of them is that they’re a signal that we’re finally being freed from the grip of winter’s cold.

But it turns out that you can see blooming sakura in Tokyo right now, in mid-February! And no, we’re not talking about in some tiny, remote garden stuck way in the mountains at the extreme corner of the sprawling city, but right in the middle of downtown.

Shinjuku Gyoen garden is a huge park that’s just a short walk from Shinjuku Station, Japan’s busiest rail hub that sits on the western portion of the Yamanote train loop line that encircles Tokyo’s city center. Conveniently, it’s also just a quick stroll from SoraNews24 headquarters, making it one of our ace reporter Mr. Sato’s favorite places to ditch work for an afternoon.

So last Friday, Mr. Sato got a jump on his weekend by sneaking out of the office and heading to Shinjuku Gyoen, where there are currently two different types of cherry blossoms in bloom. One is the kawazu sakura, which shares the first part of its name with the city of Kawazu, in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is famous for the trees. Shinjuku Gyoen has kawazu sakura too, though, and Mr. Sato spotted these beautiful branches shortly after entering the facility through the Shinjuku Gate, and just in front of the in-park Yuri no Ki restaurant.

Even with the overcast skies, the flowers were beautiful to behold. Compared to other types of cherry blossoms kawazu sakura have a deeper pink color, and their leaves occasionally appear more quickly than with other types, leading to a two-tone pink-and-green treat for the eyes.

Moving further into the park’s interior, Mr. Sato found himself in the vicinity of Shinjuku Gyoen’s Rakuutei teahouse. This is where you’ll find the second of the park’s early-bloomer cherry blossom types, called kanzakura.

The “kan” part of kanzakura means “cold” in Japanese, since they actually start blossoming as early as late January. Sure enough, Shinjuku Gyoen’s kanzakura were about 80 percent of the way to full bloom.

But while Mr. Sato was enjoying the view, he couldn’t help but feel a little sad. Half the fun of going to see cherry blossoms in Japan is having a hanami (cherry blossom-viewing) party with your friends, munching on snacks and enjoying liquid refreshment while chatting and laughing. Mr. Sato was here while all of his coworkers were still in the office, though, so he was going to have to settle for solo selfies.

Or was he? Remember, this was all happening very close to SoraNews24 headquarters, so calling up one of his coworkers, like fellow reporter Go Hatori, was an option. But just as Mr. Sato was about to give Go a ring, he remembered that the rest of the team was still working, and by revealing his location, Go might instead dispatch a team to drag him back to the office. So in the end, Mr. Sato decided to play it safe and just virtually include Go in the festivities with a little photo editing magic.

▼ Just hanging out with his BFF Go.

Hmm…but that’s still a pretty small party, isn’t it? Better pump up the guest list.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the sakura all by yourself, if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

Mr. Sato thinks this week will probably be the best time to see Shinjuku Gyoen’s two cold-weather sakura types, and if you can’t make it, you can still look forward to visiting the garden in late March, when the somei yoshino, Japan’s favorite variety of cherry blossoms, are predicted to start blooming in Tokyo.

Related: Shinjuku Gyoen
Photos ©SoraNews24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he looks forward to sakura anko about as much as he does sakura flowers.

[ Read in Japanese ]