A couple weeks back, I made a quick trip down to Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms. With no classes due to spring break, it seemed like the right time to go, so I took off work on Monday and headed down to Tokyo late Friday after work.
My first stop was Ueno Park, a favorite from my first real visit to the city back in January. I love it for the people watching and slightly dated 80s vibe. Before visiting, a barista at a coffee shop I’d stopped by said the cherry blossoms weren’t very good yet, so I went with low expectations but was quickly surprised. I was in the city a week too early for the best of it, but having never before seen cherry blossoms, I was thrilled.
People walked under an avenue of cherry trees beginning to bloom. I had to dodge rogue selfie sticks throughout the park, and I eavesdropped on people speaking English and Italian. In some places, young Japanese people had hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, picnics with beer, card games, and blankets to keep warm.
My next stop was to the Yasukuni Shrine and nearby Chidorigafuchi Park. The Yasukuni Shrine is controversial as it honors Japanese killed in war, and I immediately noticed someone marching with the Rising Sun flag when I arrived. The shrine itself is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited in Tokyo, but it is uncomfortable to see how some Japanese deal with (or really don’t deal with) the war.
Chidorigafuchi Park is famous for its moat, and couples will go on boat rides under the cherry blossoms. This site was a little disappointing, but I could imagine how beautiful it would be with a full bloom.
My favorite place for hanami was Aoyama Cemetery. Because it’s a cemetery, people won’t have rowdy picnics here, but instead it’s a beautiful place for a mindful walk. Some of the trees here were blooming rather fully, and I took some time to breathe after battling crowds throughout the city.
My other favorite site for hanami was Nakameguro, although the river here was much more touristy. I first stopped for a great coffee at Onibus, a shop next to a school and with a second floor right next to the train tracks. It’s a great place for a relaxing pour over on Sunday morning.
After cloudy weather on Saturday, Sunday was sunny and perfect for a walk along the canal underneath the cherry blossoms. There were a couple of stalls to buy snacks, some people sold rosé because it’s pink, and there were even some sakura mochi.
While in the city, I got to check some other places off of my Tokyo list. Saturday morning, I visited the famous Tsukiji Market for breakfast. At Hare no Hi, I had a good salmon donburi, but the market is overwhelmingly touristy, and I felt I could get the same fish in Hokkaido for cheaper. People come to watch the fish auctions and eat fresh fish. It’s worth visiting once, but if you can go to Hokkaido, you can find the same at a cheaper price.
One of my favorite neighborhoods I explored for the first time was Azabujuban. The streets are quiet and there are a lot of small shops and restaurants. My visit here began a series of “bests” thus far in Japan. I had the best New York style margherita pizza at Savoy, well worth the hour wait for a seat in this tiny restaurant. The next morning I had the best ramen at Ichiran, and later the best pour over at Onibus and the best espresso at No. 8 by Bear Pond, a recommendation from a friend back home. I was less impressed by Kabukicho, Tokyo’s red light district where I was staying. It’s one of the first places I visited in Japan where people don’t leave you alone and instead try to get you to visit their bar or restaurant or seedier establishment. Although, the Capsule Hotel Hatagoya, where I stayed, was the best capsule I’ve stayed at and was great value for its central location and facilities.