Every year when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, Japanese people come out in droves to drink and eat beneath the trees. It's called "ohanami", and it's one of my favorite Japanese traditions. This year I got to do a few hanami in various places around Tokyo with my new coworkers and friends. Here's my review of a few of the popular spots we visited:
Ueno is a great park to spend the day in, with lots of fun things to do, and they set up a number of food stalls and street entertainers during the hanami season. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo above, it's pretty crowded and Ueno doesn't have many good places to sit and have a picnic. Most people just put tarps down on the side of the sidewalks. I wouldn't recommend Ueno for a traditional sit-down hanami, but it was very nice to eat some festival food and go visit the zoo while admiring the sakura.
Yoyogi Park near Harajuku Station is one of the most popular hanami spots in Tokyo, so it's pretty crowded and finding a spot for your picnic can get competitive. Luckily my coworkers and had already claimed a space and I just got to show up and enjoy it. Yoyogi is not the cleanest place during hanami season, thanks to the huge quantities of alcohol people spend all day imbibing and there are ridiculously long lines for bathrooms (not a good combination with all the alcohol...) But the trees were beautiful and the festival atmosphere was fun. I recommend doing as we did: enjoy the sakura for a bit in the afternoon, then go somewhere cleaner and more comfortable in the evening.
This was my definitely my favorite spot this year, despite not really being a traditional picnic style hanami. Nakameguro is a cool little neighborhood on the Toyoko Line that runs down to Yokohama. It's only about ten minutes from Shibuya. It has a European feel with canals lined by lots of interesting shops, open-air cafes and restaurants. The river is lined by sakura trees and during the hanami season food stalls pop up with gourmet food like quiche, crepes and wine, along with some of the usual Japanese festival fare. It's best as a night-time hanami spot, because the cherry blossoms look gorgeous illuminated by lanterns and street lamps.
I visited Yokohama with my friend Kenna, who I met in college and who is now a foreign exchange student at Waseda University. We had lunch in China Town with her fellow students, then wandered around the many parks alongside the harbor, admiring the flowers. There were some nice but crowded spots for picnics, and plenty of fun things to do (like the famous ferris wheel, or watching the street performers.) I'd recommend Yokohama as a fun day-trip and a nice alternative to Tokyo hanami.