Tokyo Imperial Gardens during O-Hanami

O-hanami is the Japanese traditional cherry blossom viewing season in the first two weeks of April. The blossoms were fully opened on my first weekend in Tokyo and I took the opportunity of a sunny Sunday to take a walk in the Imperial Gardens. Here is a walk from Tokyo main train station to the Budokan via the imperial gardens accessible to the public on the east side of the palace.

Tokyo Station is one of the stations on the Yamanote Line, a train line that circles around Tokyo. Each of the stops are at the location of old villages. Tokyo Station is on centuries-old landfill east of the Imperial Palace.

Here we have walked west from the station to the beginnings of the Imperial Grounds and are looking back at the station. The area in between is an area that was once the home of the regional Japanese lords. The idea was to keep them close to the Imperial Palace where the Emperor could keep an eye on them. These days it is an area of offices and government buildings.

The Palace Grounds are surrounded by a series of moats. Here we are looking south at the outer moat from the same spot as the previous picture. On the inside of the wall on the right is the Kokyo Gaien, a parklike area filled with pines and open to the public.

Here is one walls of the inner moat. The building in the distance is part of the Imperial Grounds and inaccesible to the public.

In between the inner and outer moats are some traditional Japanese structures that are boarded up to the outside.

The construction of the battlement walls is very obviously Japanese. But it is also very practical. In a land of strong earthquakes, these walls have stood solid for centuries. A vertical stone wall would soon be a shambles in tremor-prone Tokyo.

I wouldn't want to swim in the moat. But some orange-billed beggars do. This swan is typical.

The arboreal motif in the Imperial Grounds is a mixture of pines and cherry trees. Each is graceful in its own way and lives in harmony with the stone and water.

A block or so to the south-west, this broad, paved area leads to a narrow bridge that can be seen crossing from left to right. This is is the Ninju-bashi gate, the entrance to the Imperial Palace Inner Grounds. By tradition, this entrance is open to the public twice a year, on January 2nd and on the Emperor's birthday.

Here is another view of the Ninju-bashi bridge. This is one of the most famous vistas in Japan.

People from all over Japan come to have their picture taken at the Ninju-bashi vista. This particular westerner flagged down a helpful Japanese tourist and then waited his turn to get his picture taken.

To the north of the Ninju-bashi is the Kokyo Higashi Gyoen, a part of the Imperial Gardens that is open to the public. Here people are walking across the bridge over the moat to the gateway entrance to the garden.

The two story doors to the gate are massively constructed of iron over thick timbers. The small door in the gate reminds me of a scene from the Wizard of Oz.

Inside the garden there are structures with beautiful post and beam construction and lovely ornamental tile rooves. This eave of a rest building is typical.

The palace walls are extraordinary, made of gigantic fitted granite blocks. But the signs of spring are everywhere, from the fresh green needles on the pines to the pale pink flowers blooming in the cracks.

It isn't hard to see where the inspiration for much Japanese watercolor comes from. The shadows on this wall remind me of a print I saw at the Oriental Museum in Golden Gate Park a few years ago.

There are four traditional occupations during O-hanami. The first is walking and looking at the blossoms, the second is painting them, the third is picnicing below a cherry tree and the most recent is photographing them. The Japanese are avid photographers and they were out in force around practically every cherry tree.

Here four artists are grouped together painting the spring scenery.

So, what's all the fuss about? This. Here is close up of some of the blossoms.

At the north end of the Kokyo Higashi Gyoen is a lookout. Here is a view back south across the garden towards the Ninju-bashi.

Looking north from the lookout we can see the exit gate at the north end of the gardens. The large green conical roof a few blocks away is the Budukon, a Sumo Wrestling arena and sometimes rock concert venue. We'll continue walking towards the Budukon

On the bridge outside the exit gate from the garden an artist is intent on capturing the vista in his miniature watercolor.

What was the artist looking at? The harmony of pine, stone, water and blossom that is a quintessential Japanese spring.

North of the palace grounds is a park called the Kitanomaru Koen. It has a remarkable area of shadowed pines that look out onto cherry blossoms overlooking a lake below. The effect is stunning with the dark shadows of the pines adapting the eye and then you come over a rise and the blossoms look like they're exploding with light.

Looking over the edge, boats are being rowed on the water below.

Farther north in the shadow of the Budukan there is a traditional O-hanami picnic area. I was here early and the place was filling up. People are wall-to-wall by the afternoon.

This tour of O-Hanami cherry blossom viewing ends with the tranquility of a pair of people slowly rowing on the lake under the blossoms.

Next a walk through Ueno Gardens

(c) Copyright 2003

Steven M. Boker

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