| "Sakura (Hanami) - 2009" by Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass, Tokyo
The cherry blossom viewing season starts just before most trees attempt to put out new leaves for the spring, so it's - not surprisingly - generally cold. Not bad in the daytime, but for workers attempting to see the cherry blossoms after work, seeing them at night is the only way (remember that Tokyo is in the wrong time zone and it gets dark here rather quickly). The view above was enjoyable only for people getting off work by 5:00. Anyone working later than that (a large part of the workforce here) had to settle for seeing them at night. The bad economy actually helped me see them this year, since I'm working on a reduced hours schedule, and get off earlier than I normally would.
(Above left) - The first cherry blossoms I saw this year were plastic. Shopping streets (shotengai) often do this in the very early spring - put plastic blossoms up on the poles. It may sound strange, but it does add color to the typically treeless avenues that most of these type of streets are. (Above middle & right) - The typical scenery when moving about the train system. The stations themselves look the same all year round, but people here (for some reason) avoid wearing anything colorful in the winter, so the most colorful thing is not people's clothing, but the colored stripes on the trains.
(Above left) - Almost impossible to see in this photo, the sakura trees by the river are just beginning to bloom (scroll down the page - way down - for a later view of this same spot when the trees were in full bloom about a week after this picture was taken). (Above middle) - A cheering view after a long, cold winter! (Above right) - Just for contrast... this is how the treeless streets look all the time, with the (huge) exception that people (especially women) are wearing colorful summer clothing in the summer. When the sakura trees first begin to bloom, it's still close to winter, temperature-wise, so people are still wearing their winter clothes.
(Above left) - One of the first days that people went to Yasukuni Shrine to see the cherry blossoms there and (more impressively) along the nearby moat. (Above center) - People lining up for something-or-other inside Yasukuni Shrine. (Since this shrine is extremely controversial, I didn't feel like asking someone in line what they were lining up for.) (Above right) - One of the many food stalls set up for the hanami (flower-viewing) season.
(Above) - The many sakura trees along the moat on the other side of the main street that runs between the Yasukuni Shrine area and the moat. They cheated a bit with the lighting this time, using pink-tinted light to illuminate some of the trees (middle photo). There are actually many types of sakura trees, and some of them have very brilliant pink flowers, but the most common type are a pale pink that looks almost white under artificial lighting at night - thus the pink tinted lights (for one section only - the floodlights were normal lights).
(Above & below) - Some of the many food stalls seen on my second visit to Yasukuni Shrine (the first time, it started raining soon after I got there, so I went back a day or two later when water wasn't falling from the sky). The best-looking sakura trees were over by the moat, but there are also sakura trees on the shrine grounds and many groups of office workers met here to have food & beer from the various food stalls, sitting under the nearby sakura trees. (I took several photos of the trees here, but I didn't like the way most of them turned out, so there's only one photo (on this page) that shows the trees in this area - three photo-groups down, on the right.)
(Below left) - A couple of the stalls out away from the main batch - before the peak viewing days, when there were not many people in that area yet. (Below center) - The walk to Ichigawa Station from the shrine. (Bottom right) - Back on the train. This is how I spend from three to five hours a day in Tokyo, standing for almost all of it. (Friends ask me why I don't go out more on the weekends.... I would like to, but by the time Saturday rolls around, I'm somewhat allergic to spending yet more time on the trains.)
(Below left & center) - Back into commuting fun. An important thing to remember when seeing the crowds out to see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo, is what people generally look at in their day-to-day lives. With modern Tokyo not exactly overrun with greenery, seeing real live flowers on trees is more of a delight than it would be if people were living among plants in the first place.
(Above right) - The one view (on this page) of the sakura trees at Yasukuni Shrine. Notice how many people there are below the trees! (Bottom left) - A stall selling whole potatoes. I bought one myself, dumped on some butter, and was surprised at how good it tasted. Nothing like hot food outside when it's cold! (The square tin the man with the headband is tidying up is full of butter.)
(Above - center & right) - In full bloom on a sunny day! This is what really feels like spring! Warm sun, the trees in peak bloom, and people walking about, happy that spring has arrived. Some years, it rains a lot when the trees bloom, and then the petals are knocked off and there are no days of the trees in full bloom like this at all. This thought adds to the enjoyment of a clear day below the trees with their peak show.
(Above left) - Spring flowers on a suburban street. Nice, but there's something particularly nice about the sakura trees. Scale maybe? Contrast? The large cloud of pale pink against the dark branches? (Above two center photos) - The Hachiko dog statue in Shibuya. Before cell phones, picking a specific meeting place and a specific time was vital. Back in those days, Hachiko was a popular meetings spot, since it was easy to find and everyone knew about it. (Although they did confuse things somewhat when they added a Hachiko dog mural a little ways away.) Now that people can contact each other anywhere, any time, meeting points are far less important.. (Above right) - Looking up, with the buildings not in the view, it's possible to (momentarily) forget the city....
(Above left) - The Hachiko Plaza in front of Shibuya Station, with the Hachiko dog statue in the left center of the photo. (Above center) - After taking a subway from Shibuya, I headed up an escalator to see the moat cherry blossoms again. (Above right) - The building with the roof just visible is the Budokan, where the Beatles played back in the 1960's.
(Above right) - A gate of what was a part of the Edo Castle grounds back in the old feudal days. This is right in the center of the city and fairly near to the Imperial Palace. People generally go through this gate when seeing concerts at the Budokan. (This view is from the inside, looking out.)
(Above left and next to left) - With some views, it's occasionally possible to imagine living in a another time, a time when people were not divorced from the natural world. (Above 2nd from right) - Cars... how many more trees would there be in Tokyo were it not for bloody internal combustion engine-equipped personal transportation devices! (Above right) - Looking in a shop window near the sakura action.
(Above left) - Contrast again. A part of the city with virtually no plants on the left, and the sakura trees and their admirers on the right (across the road). (Above center) - The crowds walking along the moat looking at the trees (in contrast with many of the people in groups below the trees on the shrine grounds, eating and drinking, who are focused on each other more than the trees). (Above right) - With the color of the flowers in the background looking normal, I'm not sure why the color is so muddy in the foreground - some strange kind of lighting I think.
(Above) - Some sakura trees put out green leaves together with the blossoms (most sakura trees put out only blossoms first, followed by leaves). The combination of the near-white petals and new green always looks nice, and is a nice contrast with the pale pink of only blossoms.
At about this point, I kicked myself for going to one area too many times, and resolved to spend the rest of the hanami season (which only lasts for a week or so) going to other places.
(Above) - The contrast factor again. With a trip through Shinjuku (sampling some live music), and a view in the cab of an old-type Chuo Line train (almost completely phased out, although I've seen at least one of them still on the rails this week - in August of 2009).
(Above left) - And here we are again looking at the same scene shown in the third photo group from the top (scroll up to the top of this page to view), only this time with the sakura trees in full bloom. (Above center & right) - In line with my decision to sample other areas of Tokyo, I took a couple of Tokyu Line trains (there are several lines run by Tokyu railways) to Jiyugaoka (see below).
(Above & below) - Jiyugaoka. I like this street, and it's relaxing to walk down it, but I've never been able to fully relax when I sit on one of the benches, since people are continually walking by right behind them. There's always a feeling of needing to pay attention to who is where.
(Below) - Escalators... they used to be very rare in train stations here, but now they're at just about every station. At some stations they hinder the flow of people though, since they have taken some previously wide staircases and then installed one two-person width escalator for going up, and one for going down. Whereas with one wide staircase, everyone can use the entire width of the staircase when a train comes in in the evening (when there are very few people getting on the train), with the bloody escalators, there's a long line waiting for the double-width only up escalator to haul people up at its snail-pace speed. At those times, I really hate escalators!
(Above right) - Shibuya Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line. In the winter, platforms like this can seem pretty cold, but somehow are more friendly when the weather warms up (not sure why that should surprise me...).
(Above left) - Looking out over the one elevated section of the Ginza subway line - it comes up from the tunnels (just before where you can see the train's headlights in this photo), and then climbs to a second (or third maybe) floor level as it comes into the Tokyu Department Store building. This sort of view in Tokyo is typical. Again, the contrast helps the sakura trees look that much better. (Above middle & right) - A display of some very expensive obi (the belt part of a kimono) in a Tokyu Department Store.
(Above left two) - Ah... mega-city life! Since I can still remember reading stories of life in the big city from the standpoint of a smaller town, I'm still kind of mesmerized by scenes like these sometimes - feeling like I'm in a science fiction book. (Above right two) - Yotsuya Station and a spot atop the Yotsuya Rampart, where I met some friends for food, drink, and talk beneath the sakura trees.
(Above center) - The moon over the Yotsuya Rampart. (Above right) - After fun under the moon and the trees (sitting on a plastic sheet on the dirt), it's back to Life on the Trains....
(Above & below) - Shinagawa. This group of office towers are fairly new, and so the trees below them were brought in and haven't been in that location for very long. I only mention that, because there was something different about the sakura trees here compared with the ones I saw in other parts of town. Not a bad thing, but it was almost like they weren't really there. Trees that have been in the same place for decades exude more of an atmosphere.
(Above right) - Shinagawa Station. Rebuilt along with the new office towers, the high ceilings are reminiscent of airport terminals. As you can see in this photo - sections of the roof can be opened on nice days. (Shinagawa always has a special meaning for me, since it was one of the places where I worked and lived in my first weeks in Japan. In fact, my first job in Japan was in Shinagawa.)
(Above right & center) - A Shinkansen super-express train running parallel to the Tokaido Line train I was on. (Below left & center) - More views out the window of a train. In going here and there in Tokyo, you lose track of how many lines you use. The trains generally come soon enough that there is little waiting for the next train, and so the main sensation is walking to get on a train, standing on the train after it comes in, walking to the next train, standing on that train, walking to the next, etc. Since you're (almost always) standing the entire time, the different elements of the trip blur together and the memory is something like the motion-blur effect of these pictures.
(Above right & below all) - I got lucky with these trees in a park in western Tokyo. Some sort of athletic practice was on the soccer field, so the ground floodlights were on. In contrast with lighting specifically meant to illuminate the trees, this was further away and provided quite interesting lighting.
(Below left) - See the steps leading up on the right side of the picture? (You can see the path in shadow, but can't actually see the individual steps.) That leads to the view in the below-right photo. Notice how different things look without the illumination from the floodlights (and there are no sakura trees in that view).
(Below) - With the distant floodlights, the trees almost look like there has been a snowfall. The petals are pale pink, but in the floodlights, look white. I had kind of a strange evening after this; a group of older men invited me to go to a local club and I went for a little while and had a very... um... interesting conversation with the man sitting on my right. (Buy me a couple of beers sometime and I'll tell you about it.)
(Below) The Yamanote Line - in the middle of everything in Tokyo. An amazing number of people use this line every day, but since they generally run a train every two or three minutes, you usually don't have to wait long for a train and, while it's usually crowded, it's not too bad, due to the large number of trains.
(Below) - Inokashira Park, near Kichijoji Station. These photos below were taken past the peak with the sakura trees, but this may have been my best experience with the flowers this year, since every time the wind blew, the petals would come raining down like snow. Also, the petals in the pond looked nice, and the dark dirt roads were turned to near-white by the layer of petals on them.
Due, no doubt, to Inokashira Park having the largest area of land with trees on it that I visited this year, it had the greatest feeling of being out in the natural world - far from asphalt and concrete.
I just thought of another reason why Inokashira Park seemed more personal than the moat area. With the moat, you're up high, the moat is down out of reach and seemingly far way, and everything seems distant somehow. You can see it all very clearly, and it's beautiful, but you can't get close to the scene and really be part of it. But in Inokashira Park, you can get right up next to the pond (lake?) and it all seems very personal. (Come to think of it - during the day, there are rowboats for rent both here and in part of the moat....)
(Below - second from left) - When the moon came out, everyone pulled out their image-recording devices and did their best to take pictures. Most didn't get very good results from their machines though - it's probably better to not even try recording some things. The recording attempt detracts from the experience of actually seeing it. (Speak for myself? Yeah... that's what I'm doing!)
(Below) - This was the closing act in a week of daily sakura scene hunting. After taking these night views in Inokashira Park, I decided that my quest for sakura images for 2009 was over! And now - all the way over in August - I am finally getting these posted to my website. I would like to do these things more quickly! Why does everything consume so much time?
Copyright 2009 by Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass, Tokyo