The Imperial Household Agency announced Friday that it will cancel the opening of Inui Street inside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo during the cherry blossom season, in the latest disruption caused by concerns over the new coronavirus.
The street has been opened to the public during the annual cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons since 2014.
The decision came after the Tokyo Metropolitan Government urged residents earlier this week to refrain from holding parties at parks during the famed cherry blossom season.
The season, which is expected to start in mid-March, is traditionally celebrated with hanami (viewing parties) in cherry blossom hot spots.
The metropolitan government said such events risk spreading the virus, which has infected more than 300 people in Japan.
“It is expected to be crowded at parks and near rivers managed by the Tokyo government during the cherry blossom season,” the metropolitan government said. “Please refrain from joining parties that involve food and drinks in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus infections.”
It said walking around the parks to enjoy sakura (cherry blossoms), is fine, but advised people to wear masks if they have a cough.
The affected areas include Ueno, Yoyogi and Inokashira parks.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stepped up measures to contain the virus, urging schools to close for several weeks and calling on organizers of large events to consider cancellations or postponements.
Everything from soccer games and music concerts have been affected, while the spring sumo tournament will be held behind closed doors.
The cherry blossom season is feverishly anticipated by locals and visitors alike. Many tourists plan their entire trips around the blooms, and Japanese flock to parks to enjoy the spectacle.
Cherry blossoms also symbolize the fragility of life in Japanese culture as full blooms only last about a week before the petals start falling off trees.
Weathernews, a weather forecasting firm near Tokyo, predicts the blooming will start on March 17 in Tokyo.