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Taking a stroll through one of Japan’s oldest Western-style public parks, Yuji Kimura examines scores of sakura (cherry trees) lining the main pedestrian walkway leading toward the Tokyo National Museum.

Kimura, who owns a bag shop in Ueno, a bustling working-class area of northeastern Tokyo, has helped graft many of the cherry trees admired every spring.

“They’re like my children,” the 65-year-old says with a proud grin, explaining the horticultural technique employed in their reproduction by taking the desired tree’s stem and attaching it onto the rootstock of another tree so the tissues of the plants are joined together.

Around 800 cherry trees of 50 or so varieties can be found in Ueno Park, which opened in 1876 and has since flourished as the cultural center of the capital, surrounded by a zoo, museums and the Tokyo University of the Arts, one of Japan’s most prestigious art schools.

During cherry blossom season, the park welcomes the most number of visitors than any of the roughly 600 viewing spots in Japan — parks, temples, shrines and other locations — reflecting its centuries-old status as the nation’s hanami (blossom viewing) mecca. This year, however, fears of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic have dampened enthusiasm for the spring ritual.

Hanami has been a trustworthy moneymaker for Japan, bringing in hundreds of billions of yen across the nation between late March and early May each year when the pink blooms make their way up the archipelago, giving businesses incentive to cash in on the national phenomenon.

Travel bans, however, are hurting tourist figures, and public fears over the threats posed by the coronavirus are forcing popular hanami spots to refrain from engaging in festivities, delivering another blow to a nation already reeling from the economic impact of the outbreak.

“We’ve seen a surge in hanami-goers over the past decade or so,” says Kimura, a central member of Ueno Sakuramori no Kai, a group of self-described sakura guardians who help maintain the cherry trees in the park along with metropolitan government officials.

Born and raised in Ueno, Kimura says the neighborhood has always been closely associated with sakura, a connection that goes back centuries.

“Every year, Ueno Park fills up with hanami-goers,” he says, “but I’m afraid the turnout this year could be modest.”

First published in The Japan Times on March 21.

Warm up

One-minute chat about what you want to do right now.


Collect words related to spring,

e.g., cherry blossoms, warm, allergies, etc.

New words

1) graft: transplant living tissues, e.g., “She had a skin graft.”

2) horticultural: related to the practice of garden management, “There are many unique flowers in this horticultural facility.”

3) ritual: a ceremony, often religious, that consists of a series of actions in a specific order, e.g., “Wudu is an Islamic ritual in which you wash your hands, head and feet before prayer.”

Guess the headline

Celebrating Japan’s iconic c_ _ _ _ _ trees in a time of p_ _ _ _ _ _ _


1) Who is Yuji Kimura?

2) What is different about cherry blossom season this year?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Discuss your best hanami party ever.

2) Should people do hanami this year?





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