After a few days of walking ten miles or more a day we wanted a short, easy day today. We settled on heading to Ueno Park with its famous cherry blossoms. Ueno is very popular for hanami and the station was very busy. It took us a while to just cross the road to get to the park. The park was packed with people promenading under the avenues of cherry trees as well as setting up tarps and blankets to picnic under the trees. The park has been set up to allow these two activities to coexist with roped off areas for sitting and paths for walking.
On one side of the park there are food stalls flanking a narrow path which funnels people down between the stalls into an uncomfortable scrum of people struggling to catch a glimpse of the food on offer before being swept past. Here we met a nice Japanese man who wanted to know where we were from and how we were enjoying Japan and whether we had sakura in the UK. I really didn’t enjoy being crushed by crowds while trying to decide between the boggling array of street food available but we managed to grab some meat-on-a-stick and some fried noodles and found a place to perch while we ate. We ventured back into the crush in search of desert and had a bit of a childish giggle at the phallic nature of much of the food on display, bananas dipped in chocolate, really long thin waffles on sticks, all manner of balls on sticks, suspicious sausages on sticks, etc.
After food, we joined the masses promenading under the trees and admiring the blossoms. Despite the large numbers of excitable people (sakura/hanami makes the Japanese much less inhibited than their stereotypes) in quite a small space the atmosphere was very relaxed and calm and eerily quiet.
When we were tired of walking we went off in search of a place to sit under the trees and met a nice man whose family was just leaving and who donated their picnic tarp to us to sit on. Everyone seems to bring tarps to the parks to sit on and then throws them away presumably to avoid the hassle of taking them home. Possibly they are handed out and collected back and reused but I didn’t see anyone passing them out or selling them.
Sitting under the blossoming cherry trees in a Japanese park is a great way of people watching. Like most places in Tokyo, everyone is much closer together than they would be in the UK. No looking for a space away from the other picnics here, instead you look for a spot that seems big enough for your party to stand in and then spread your tarp and blanket and lie down on it! From our vantage point we could observe many different types of people come to enjoy the blossoms. There were families with young children who tore around throwing fallen blossoms in the air, old couples getting just as drunk on wine and beer as the young ones, office workers in their suits and ties trying in vain to use newspaper to protect their clothes from the dusty ground, other people had complex picnic arrangements with food and drink in cool boxes and tables carefully constructed from cardboard boxes.
It became quite cold as the sun went down and we donated our tarp to one of the groups of office workers who were having trouble keeping their suits clean and went walking again. As the sun went down, lanterns hung among the trees came on and lit up the blossoms producing a lovely glow amid the flowers.
Leaving the park we explored the surrounding area and admired the bright lights for a while before calling it a day.