While hanami (cherry blossom viewing) remains a vital spring ritual in Japan, the ongoing outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) — which had the country panic-buying toilet paper earlier this week — is affecting the season’s festivities.
Due to above-average temperatures this winter, Japan’s cherry blossoms are forecast to bloom earlier than usual in 2020. The Japan Meteorological Corporation’s most recent forecast estimates that blossoms will begin to flower on March 15 and reach full bloom the following week, on March 23, in Tokyo.
Live updates on COVID-19 in Tokyo from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Growing concerns over the coronavirus epidemic in Japan, which reached 568 confirmed cases on March 12, however, have resulted in the cancellation of major hanami festivals this year — and more anticipated events are expected to follow suit.
Is hanami safe this year?
On Feb. 25, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked sporting and cultural organizations across the country to cancel or postpone large gatherings until at least March 15 to prevent further spreading of the coronavirus. Abe’s announcement, followed by the order to close public schools in Japan, led to the cancellation of major events including concerts, art exhibitions and massive annual events like hanami festivals.
It’s been advised that the public show extra caution if they are heading to public places, especially if they’re crowded. Frequent and thorough handwashing, taking extra care to avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose with your hands and maintaining a safe distance from those who appear to be displaying flu-like symptoms are among the tips to help prevent infection.
Sakura lovers don’t have to miss out entirely on their favorite season, however. Many popular viewing sites are public parks and pathways, which will remain open for those who’d like to admire the blossoms despite the absence of the usual food stalls and lantern displays. Keep in mind, however, that the following events will be cancelled in 2020.
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— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 3, 2020
Which hanami events are canceled in Tokyo?
Nakameguro Cherry Blossom Festival
A beloved yozakura (night cherry blossom) spot and one of Tokyo’s most photogenic hanami attractions, the Meguro River promenade attracts millions of visitors each year. While the canal’s 800 plus yoshino cherry trees won’t be lit up by stunning illuminations and pink lanterns this year, passersby can still enjoy a breathtaking stroll during the day.
Sumida Park Sakura Matsuri Festival
Located along the Sumida River, close to popular tourist spots like Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree, Sumida Park attracts over 50,000 people a day when blossoms are in full bloom. Visitors this year might miss out on the usual bustle of food and drink vendors during bloom season, but potential picnickers can enjoy the park’s 600 cherry trees — just come equipped with your own snacks and refreshments.
Chiyoda Cherry Blossom Festival
Around 200 cherry trees line the picturesque moat and waterways of the Chidorigafuchi Park, drawing over 1 million visitors each year. Special events, including tree illuminations, as well as food and drink vendors, are not on the bill for 2020. However, the scenic pathway along the promenade will be open for what may perhaps be a quieter stroll than previous blooming seasons.
Hibiya Blossom Anniversary Stage
Tokyo Midtown Hibiya welcomes spring with Hibiya Blossom 2020, an event featuring botanical installations and parades. The Hibiya Blossom Anniversary Stage, which features a series of live performances scheduled throughout March 2020, has been cancelled. However, visitors can still view an array of flower arrangements at the Hibiya Blossom Garden, which opens March 27 at the Hibiya Step Plaza.
Check here for more updates and tips on avoiding infection in Japan. If you’re worried while traveling through Japan, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) operates a visitor hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Support is available in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
From Japan 050-3816-2787
From Overseas +81-50-3816-2787