Impatient to see the first sakura of the season, we followed the crowds into Ueno Park. It's been a good while since we last joined in the revelry at Tokyo's largest, most boisterous cherry blossom-viewing party — and never before have we done it in such gourmet style.

Nothing wrong whatsoever with huddling with the happy masses, quaffing barely cold beer and washing down soggy kara-age deep-fried chicken with cheap shochu while warbling into a portable karaoke mic. Been there, done that — and had the hangover. This year, however, we swapped the pleasures of the blue tarp for the rather more genteel setting of Innsyoutei.

With its rustic wooden facade and faded red parasol out front, this venerable teahouse is one of the park's landmarks. The original building dates back to 1875, and it has long been a favorite spot for people out strolling or resting their legs after a visit to one of the nearby museums. Most would drop in for light refreshments, perhaps some mitsu-mame (sweetened azuki beans) with a bowl of matcha tea. Few ever seemed to bother with the upstairs rooms, where bento (boxed lunches) were served.