I'm sitting at my desk, self-isolating and day dreaming of cherry blossoms in Japan! I know many of our students and teachers would have now been amongst the pink blossoms .........
We know we have many disappointed school groups who are now housebound for the Easter holidays - students who have been excitedly looking forward to their Japan Tour and teachers who have put in months of planning in order to provide the best possible experience for their students. We have also been working hard to fulfil your travel plans and are equally saddened by these unprecedented events. So for all our teachers, those that could not travel these holidays, teachers who have future travel plans and teachers who are equally passionate about their love of Japan, this blog is to remind you of the beauty of Japan. I hope to give you some inspiration to start planning again, some ideas to include in your itineraries and would also welcome your feedback, suggestions and travel ideas to share online. Starting this week with one of our favourite seasons, sit back, grab a wine, coffee or your favourite drink .......... cherry blossom season has commenced!
WHEN IN TOKYO MIX WITH THE LOCALS AT UENO PARK .......
Let’s start in Tokyo with Japan’s most famous haiku poet, Basho’s suggestion:
“A cloud of cherry blossoms; The temple bell,－ Is it Ueno, is it Asakusa?”
Like Basho, our favourite place to start for school groups is Ueno Park. The park is free and cherry blossoms are usually in full bloom in Tokyo from about the 24th March, although last year they bloomed approximately one week earlier on the 17th March. Take either the Keisei Line to Keisei Ueno Station or the JR Yamanote Line to JR Ueno Station and exit at the Park Exit. The JR Line will take you to the top of Ueno Park and will lead to the main entrance for Ueno Park Zoo. Entrance price is ¥600 for adults, ¥200 for students 13-15 years and free for primary school students. 20% discount applies for groups of 20 or more.
Many museums are situated within Ueno Park, including Tokyo National Museum, National Science Museum and National Museum of Western Art.
If required Saizen Tours can book and include admission tickets with all group tours.
However this is cherry blossom time ........ fall in love with Ueno Park and simply wind your way along the main path of sakura trees. Stop along the way for photo opportunities such as Shinobazu Pond and Hanazono Inari Shrine with its red torii gates. Buy a couple of large ビニールシートfrom the 100 yen shop, drinks and おにぎりfrom a convenience store and you and your students can enjoy はなみ in Ueno Park with the locals!
FOR A SWEET FINISH VISIT AMEYOKO .......
Finish at the lively Ameyoko Markets and wander the maze of narrow streets. Ameyoko is short for Ameya Yokocho, meaning candy store alley as sweets were originally sold here in the black market that sprung up after World War II. Today there are hundreds of shops selling not only sweets but fish, vegetables, shoes, watches, T-shirts and makeup to name a few. Your students will love these bargain stalls and you will be able to purchase some traditional sweets. At cherry blossom time look out for sakura mochi or Kit Kat Sakuramochi. If you want to try making some sakura sweets at home during these holidays see the following link:
MAKE YOUR OWN FOOD AT KAPPABASHI ........
For the perfect souvenir and a fun group activity we can organise plastic food making at Kappabashi. Take the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line from Ueno Station direct to Tawaramachi Station, one stop from Asakusa. Students can make their own sushi, noodles or sweets priced from ¥2,500 per person.
SHINJUKU GYOEN GARDENS
The beautiful gardens at Shinjuku Gyoen change each season. Cherry blossom season is the perfect time to stroll the gardens and view over 1,000 cherry blossom trees, a spectacular sight in full bloom. Shinjuku Gyoen has three gates: Shinjuku Gate is a ten minute walk east from the "New South Exit" of JR Shinjuku Station or a five minute walk from Shinjukugyoenmae Station on the Marunouchi Subway Line. Okido Gate is also a five-minute walk from Shinjukugyoenmae Station on the Marunouchi Subway Line.
There is an admission fee for this garden - ¥500 for adults, ¥250 for high school students and free for students 15 years and under. Group discount applies for groups of 30 or more.
Tickets can be purchased at the park entrance or can be included in your Saizen Tours group package. Shinjuku Gyoen is a short walk from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. The twin towers offer spectacular views of Tokyo and admission is free to the viewing platforms on the 45th floors! The Tokyo Metropolitan Building’s closest station is JR Shinjuku Station, take the West Exit and follow the signs for a 5 minute walk.
MEGURO RIVER VIEWING
Meguro River is situated close to Shibuya in the Nakamegura area. You can easily access the Meguro River Park from either Meguro Station or Nakameguro Station, both of which are a five-minute train ride from Shibuya. If you want to enjoy more of the river views, start from Meguro Station. Head southwest from the station and you'll hit the river. Follow it north to Nakameguro. Over 800 sakura trees line the river and give a spectacular view in both daytime and during the evening light-up. It is just 5-minutes on the JR Yamanote Line from Meguro to Shibuya. Students will love finishing the day for shopping at Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most colorful and busy districts, packed with shopping, dining and nightspots serving swarms of visitors that come to the district everyday. Shibuya is a center for youth fashion and culture, and its streets are the birthplace to many of Japan's fashion and entertainment trends. A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the large intersection know as ‘scramble crossing’ in front of the station's Hachiko Exit. The intersection is heavily decorated by neon advertisements and giant video screens and gets flooded by pedestrians each time the crossing light turns green, making it a popular photo and movie filming spot. Here is the statue of a loyal dog named Hachiko. According to the famous story, the dog waited for his master every day in front of Shibuya Station, and continued to do so for years even after his master had passed away. It is one of Tokyo's most popular meeting points. At JR Shibuya Station take the Hachiko Exit.
SUMIDA RIVER VIEWING
A suggested day’s itinerary is to visit Asakusa and Sensoji Temple in the morning, take a stroll along the Sumidagawa River and admire the hundreds of cherry blossom trees and then board a Sumida River Cruise from Asakusa to enjoy the blossoms along the length of the river. Asakusa is in the heart of the shitamachi, down town district of Tokyo. Start your exploration with a visit to Tokyo's oldest and most beloved temple, Sensoji. In the year 628, two fishermen fished a small, gold statue of the Kannon Goddess of Mercy from out of the Sumida River. Sensoji Temple was built to enshrine the Kannon and has since been rebuilt and enlarged many times over the past ten centuries. The main entrance to the temple is the Kaminarimon (Thunder God Gate), which is highlighted by a huge red paper lantern hanging in its centre. After taking the obligatory photographs follow the stall-lined avenue, which leads from the gate to the temple. Many of these stalls have been in the same families for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to purchase Tokyo's most famous traditional sweets and souvenirs. The atmosphere conveys the feeling of old Tokyo. Kabuki actors come to pray before a new performance, sumo wrestlers pay their respects before a tournament and geisha still mingle with tourists as they come to purchase new fans and hair decorations. Best access to Asakusa is by Asakusa Subway Station, Ginza Line or Toei Asakusa Line.
To finish the day, take the Sumida River Cruise from Asakusa Pier to Hinode Pier with spectacular cherry blossom views the length of the Sumida River.
Cross the road to the New Transit Yurikamome Line and take the monorail to the popular shopping and entertainment district of Odaiba. Here school groups can visit the latest, jaw-dropping digital exhibition at Mori Digital Art Museum.
Bookings are essential and Saizen Tours can include your group bookings for both Mori Digital Art Museum and the Sumida River Cruise.
Written by Rondell Herriot, Co-Managing Director Saizen Tours