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Tokyoites urged not to take in cherry blossom sights as early flowering confirmed

People are seen photographing a weeping cherry tree in Ueno Park in Tokyo's Taito Ward on March 16, 2021. (Mainichi/Ryotaro Ikawa)

TOKYO -- Yoshino cherry blossom trees began flowering on March 14 in central Tokyo, it was announced, tying last year for the earliest observed blossoms. But as in 2020, there are calls for people to refrain from going to see the blooms, raising the question of when people will be able to observe them without anxiety from the coronavirus.

    "As ward mayor, I wish to urge you strongly to refrain from going to see the flowers," said Meguro Ward Mayor Eiji Aoki in a March 15 video message. Aoki urged people not to gather on the banks of the Meguro River, a popular sakura viewing spot. It was the second such message from Aoki following one on March 8.

    By the river, signs reading "please refrain from gathering to enjoy the cherry blossoms" have been installed, and nighttime illuminations and other events have been canceled. A 50-year-old company employee from nearby told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It's a bit sad, but I want to go and enjoy them early in the morning and avoid the crowds."

    This spring local events including the Sakura Festival in the capital's Chiyoda Ward, and the Bunkyo Cherry Blossom Festival in neighboring Bunkyo Ward have all been canceled or reduced in scope. Metropolitan government-run parks, meanwhile, have limited entry to some parts and banned eating or drinking while visitors sit on tarps, among other measures.

    A sign asking people not to gather and view the cherry blossoms is seen on the banks of the Meguro River, which typically sees more than 3 million visitors annually, in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, on March 15, 2021. (Mainichi/Ryotaro Ikawa)

    So is there a way to both avoid crowds and ensure that many people still get a chance to enjoy the cherry blossom season? The capital's Setagaya Ward has released images taken in the ward of the flowers on its official website, and it is also considering letting people use the images as backgrounds in communications apps such as Zoom. An official said people can "get a sense of cherry blossom viewing even if it's just a feeling."

    The Chiyoda City Tourism Association has set up stream of its popular cherry-blossom viewing spot, the Chidorigafuchi Moat, with footage taken from its camera along the moat fed to YouTube.

    (Japanese original by Ryotaro Ikawa, Tokyo Bureau)

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