Strolling and partying beneath the blooming trees reenacts an ancient Japanese tradition known as hanami (cherry tree viewing).
Eliza Scidmore got her idea of planting cherry trees in Washington from the cherry-tree parks she visited in Japan, beginning in the 1880s. Every city and town had favored parks spots and gardens. Mukojima left a great impression on Scidmore.
She envisioned, she wrote many times, creating a “Mukojima on the Potomac.” The image led to the pathway of Japanese cherry trees that now rings the Tidal Basin in Washington. The scene gets part of its charm from the interconnected branches of trees, which form delicate canopies of petals that envelop humanity.
It wasn’t just the blossoms that Scidmore wanted to import. She loved the celebrations when the Japanese turned out in droves to see the trees in peak bloom.
The jolliest place to be was Mukojima. It had the spirit of a “people’s park,” where people from all walks of life mingled in a carnival atmosphere. Jugglers, acrobats, and orators performed, vendors touted their wares. Everyone picnicked and drank lots of saké.
The place has changed a lot since Scidmore’s time, of course. Most of the original trees were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and had to be replanted.
Also, the Sumida River today is wider. Tall buildings tower above one side of the riverbank; the other has a raised freeway running parallel to a stretch of cherry trees. But the display is still glorious, and the spirit of hanami remains the same.
It was a joy to be there and experience it. The trees bloomed about two weeks earlier than expected here in Japan, so my timing was perfect!
Office colleagues from EdiSon, a computer engineering firm that develops software for waste management, spent the day together at Mukojima. The company’s founder and president, Hiroki Sunaga, joined the group (second from right, in neck scarf).
Along a stretch of cherry trees at Mukojima, lanterns line the path for night viewing. Crowds gravitate to outdoor stands offering fried noodles, grilled meat, sweets, and cotton candy.
I’m told this band of merrymakers I posed with was reenacting a traditional form of “advertising” in Japan, when costumed messengers roamed the streets making announcements.
A hot pastime this year at Mukojima was photographing the traditional cherry trees juxtaposed with Tokyo’s modern new tower known as the “Sky Tree.”
A young girl on an outing with her parents gets a tasty introduction to cherry tree celebrations at Mukojima.
Kyoko Tanitsu, left, and Michiko Okubo were my companions and guides at Mukojima. Michiko lives in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, where the 3,000 cherry tree saplings sent to Washington and planted in 1912 were cultivated.
(Photo: Wakako Hisaeda)