Cherry blossoms return to Japan, but the celebration is not the same this year

People are celebrating Japan’s peak cherry blossom viewing season without COVID-19 restrictions for the first time in two years. But many are strolling under the trees rather than drinking and eating in traditional party style.

Trees are in full bloom this week in many parts of Japan. They peaked in Tokyo on Sunday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, attracting many people who had avoided participating in the national tradition for two years because of the pandemic.

In many areas, viewers have been urged not to gather under trees for binge drinking – a traditional way of celebrating the season – as part of ongoing anti-virus measures.

A woman walks on a footbridge against a backdrop of cherry blossoms near Asukayama Park in Tokyo on Thursday evening. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan lifted all official COVID-19 restrictions last week after infections slowed, but experts have raised concerns about a resurgence caused by people gathering and traveling during spring break.

In Yoyogi and Ueno parks, areas have been marked off to prevent people from sitting down and partying. Many parks put up signs prohibiting parties with alcohol.

At Chidorigafuchi Park, a famous Hanami or cherry blossom viewing point northwest of the imperial palace, thousands admired the fluffy pale pink blossoms while strolling under the rows of trees or from rowboats on the palace moat.

A tram travels on a bridge next to cherry blossoms in Tokyo on Thursday. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

In Shinjuku Gyoen in downtown Tokyo, many people, including families, picnicked under the trees. The popular Nakameguro flower viewing area was full of people walking along a river lined with cherry blossom trees.

Cherry blossoms or Cherry treeare Japan’s favorite flower and usually reach their peak in late March to early April, just as the country celebrates the start of a new school and business year.

On Thursday, visitors admire seasonal cherry blossoms from a pedestrian bridge in Tokyo’s Roppongi district. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)