Plan for the day
For our three days in Tokyo we had picked up 6 cherry blossom sites to visit. Four of them were in and around Tokyo central and the remaining two were located outskirt of Tokyo. Yesterday we had visit Chiyoda Imperial Palace and Garden and it was a disappointment as most of the blossom had dropped.
So today we thought it would be wiser to go to the sites on the outskirt of Tokyo as we hoped that the cooler weather there would keep the flowers on the trees. In the morning we planned to visit Inokashira Park (one hour journey westward) and in the afternoon we would move to the river bank near Kawagoe Hikara Shrine (one and a half hour journey northward) and return back to our apartment in the evening (another one an a half hour journey)
By end of the day
Inokashira Park was cherry blossom-less, the season had ended there. We need not proceed to river near Kawagoe Hikara Shrine as we felt that it would be another wasted trip. With the free time we visited Shinjuku Gyoen and Meguro River which saved our day. There were plentiful of late-blooming cherry blossom trees!
At 9 am we left our apartment and traced our route back to the Asakusabashi Station, where we had came from the day before. The roads were pretty quiet at this time in the morning not many cars or people, the reason could be that these roads were probably not the main roads. Near the station, we walked past several shops under an elevated train track and saw a few were open for business. One was a small and very quaint eatery offering simple Japanese breakfast to locals.
The breakfast meal on offer was noodle with vegetable tempura. Nice hot meal for a cold morning. The meal was pretty simple not very filling which definitely left spaces in our stomachs for more street food to come.
From Asakusabashi Station to Kichijoji Station (the nearest station to Inokashira Park) were 18 stops and the train journey took about an hour and costed ¥390 per person. Kichijoji Station turned out to be a surprise. Instead of being a quiet station it was a shopping mall bustling with lives. Stepping onto the road we could see shops and people everywhere. Well the shops could wait we had to visit the park first. It was a short walk to the park of about 500 metres.
As we walked nearer to the park our disappointment grew. There were no sign of cherry blossom, it seemed that even at this place the cherry blossom season was over. The pink landscape that surrounded the lake and bridges were nowhere to be seen. Green, green everywhere! On another occasion I would appreciate the tranquility of this lovely green natural park but not this time when my senses were screaming for “blanket” of pink and white cherry blossom. Well, since we had arrived at Inokashira Park we had to do the right thing and walked round the park. The sky was slightly gloomy in morning but as noon drew closer, it brighten up and the park scenery improved. We walked round the park crossing every bridge it had.
Like us there were many tourists walking around the park we all had come too late. I kept telling Yat Thong that we must come again next year, many days earlier and wait for the flowers to bloom.
We left the garden via a different route and stumbled onto an interesting, touristy pedestrian street. It was full of shops, cafes, restaurants and street carts. Ice cream, pancakes, crepes were everywhere, they looked so pretty and sweet so mouth watering yummy…
After browsing past many shops we stopped at Honolulu Cafe for coffee and cake. It was over coffee that the idea of rerouting our travelling route took place.
It started with us dropping our visit to the river bank at Kawagoe Hikara Shrine in the afternoon. We felt it would be as cherry blossom-less as Inokashira Park. From this two days experience we realised that arriving one or two days after the end of the “best viewing period” was BAD for sakura viewing.
Looking at the Japan Guide website (https://www.japan-guide.com/sakura/) which by now was publishing a daily update of the “best viewing period” of cherry blossom at different parts of Japan. In March these “best viewing periods” were still very much aligned with our travel plan and we had timed our arrival at several cherry blossom sites (from Tokyo to Osaka) to the beginning stage of the “best viewing period”. Unfortunately by the time we touched down in Tokyo these “best viewing periods” were ending earlier and earlier each day. If we stuck to our original itinerary we would be arriving at most cherry blossom sites at the tail end of their “best viewing periods”!!!
After some serious discussion we decided to leave Tokyo tomorrow and not the day after. We would give up the third night at our Tokyo apartment even though it was already paid for. We would pick up our car one day earlier and we would travel to Matsumoto and Ina which were at their “best viewing periods” now. With that decision made it was just a matter of cancelling some hotel bookings (those that allowed cancellation), booking new hotels and calling up Nissan car rental to inform them of our early arrival.
Now that we were not visiting Kawagoe Hikara Shrine we had the whole day free. We brought forward our trip to Shinjuku Gyoen which was original scheduled for tomorrow. I did not placed much hope on having a good outcome (cherry blossom viewing) at Shinjuku Gyoen but since it would be along our way back to our apartment we would just drop in at Shinjuku Gyoen.
Shinjuku Gyoen was a very big and popular park in Tokyo. It was also one of the best places to view cherry blossom. I read somewhere that it had some late-blooming species cherry blossom trees.
We started our journey on the train at Kichijoji Station and stopped at Shinjuku Station. Then we walked about 700 metre to Shinjuku Gate of the Garden. At the gate we paid ¥200 per person for an entry ticket to the park. One we entered the gate we saw a huge cherry blossom tree in full blooms! Its flowers were of a darker pink color compared to lighter-pink-earlier-bloom species.
We could see that there were also many cherry blossom trees which had already shedded their flowers and were now green with new leaves. Luckily there were several late-blooming trees around to the delights of the many visitors. The garden was huge so we walked inner into the internal of the garden and surprising more cherry blossom came into view.
Everybody was so happy posing and taking pictures of flowers. Just when I thought that there would be less cherry blossom trees ahead, more came into view. Our walk brought us to a section full of light pink color cherry blossom trees. The trees were huge probably hundreds year old. Their branches were so long so full of flowers that they drooped low to the ground.
We were taking our own sweet time admiring the flowers. At about 4 pm we heard some musical chime in the air, probably indicating that the garden would be closing soon. 4 pm was the last entry admission and the garden closed at 5 pm.
Our assumption that we could stay way past 5 pm in the garden was dispelled when near to 5 pm a group of security officers came together forming a cordon line and politely “corralled” us back to Shinjuku gate where we had no choice but to exit.
Lin Ying suggested eating ramen at Ichiran. Ichiran had an outlet in Shinjuku area so we whipped out our handphone to pin point the shop location. The Ichiran outlet was about 500 metres from Shinjuku Gyoen Gate. Not too far to walk.
When we reached near to the location we saw a long queue and on further investigation the queue led up to the front door of Ichiran. We went to wait at the end of the queue and was told to expect at least 45 minutes before we could get into the shop. After about 30 minutes later we finally reached the doorway and then we saw that it was still not the end, the queue stretched down the steps till the door of Ichiran located in the basement of the building.
Finally we reached the front of the queue. At the vending machine we selected four bowls of ramen with additional assortments like additional “char siew”, “egg” and “chrispy seaweeds”. The machine calculated the total cost and after feeding in the money four meal vouchers were discharged.
Even after getting the meal vouchers we were still in a queue. A staff came by and issued us a slip of “cooking instruction paper” where we had to tick the correct box as how we wanted our noodle to be done, like the sort of soup base, how stiff or soft we want the noodle to b,e etc etc.
A short while we were led into a corridor with several narrow rooms on one side. We entered the last narrow room and interesting on both the long sides of the room were cubicle like seats. Basically each seat face a wooden wall with a tiny window covered by a wooden blind.
We placed our meal voucher at the center our “personal” seat table and the cooking instruction slip on the right side. A hand reached out through the tiny window to pick up the meal voucher and cooking instruction slip. After a short wait, a bowl of ramen and several dishes of the assortments were placed on each of our table again through the tiny window and then the wooden blind came down shutting whatever contact we had with the hand and the person behind the tiny window.
The ramen tasted pretty nice and the whole concept of putting customers into individual cubicle and giving them privacy as the “slurp” their ramen was pretty entertaining. On second thought whose privacy were they protecting, the customers or the cooks? Most of the customers that came to Ichiran were mainly tourists and not locals, so this concept was probably a tourist-attracting technique and not a “preferred practice” of locals? Our whole bill came up to ¥4760.
Taking a trip down to Meguro River was a decision made on a spur of a moment. Dinner ended about 6.30 pm and since it would be our last night in Tokyo we might as well tried our luck visiting a famous cherry-blossom-viewing-night spot. Meguro River! From Shinjuku Station we took a train to Naka Meguro Station, the journey was only 22 minutes.
There was supposed to be a stretch of cherry blossom trees along the Meguro river where the sides along the river were lighted up at night making this one of the best night spot for viewing cherry blossom. Unfortunately we had no idea where exactly was this stretch along the river and we were not sure if the flowers were still there. I vaguely remembered reading on the internet that it was in the vicinity of Meguro River Park. From the station we walked along the main road for about 500 metre before reaching Meguro River Park.
The park was not lighted and deserted, it was dark and from there we could not see any lighted lantern along the river bordering the park. We were disappointed but reluctance to give up and leave. We saw a pedestrian walkway along the river bank just before the park so we went down to explore the walkway. Just a few steps forward we soon see row of lanterns across the river and huge cherry blossom trees, full of flowers!
These trees were the late-blooming species which had darker pink color flowers.
The amazing thing about these trees were they were so huge and their branches so long that they drooped over the side of the canal till they almost touched the water.
Looking up we saw thousands and thousands of cherry blossom flowers beautifully illuminated by the lights of the street lamps. Looking down over the canal we saw a vast pink shimmering reflection of these flowers on the surface of the river water.
Meguro River cherry blossom night scene was definitely beautiful and very different from those that we had seen so far.
Just when we came to end of the stretch of cherry blossom trees we saw another stretch ahead across a road that cut through the river. We crossed the road and continued our walk along the river. Most of the trees along this second stretch had already shedded their flowers so they were not as beautiful as the earlier stretch. Surprisingly this stretch had more people and the shops. It would be a shame if these people did not made their ways to the earlier stretch where we had been.
By the time we reached our apartment it was close to 10 pm. The day started very unsatisfactory but it definitely ended on a high note. Lovely cherry blossom!