Local governments and park authorities have this week announced cancellations to cherry blossom festivities across Japan. Viewing parties, aka “hanami”, for the country’s famous flowers attract millions of tourists every year, but the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in Japan has put a dampener on festivities in 2020.

Japan Cherry Blossom Festival Canceled
Cherry blossoms at Nakameguro | Photo by David Ishikawa

Representatives of Meguro Ward, famous for its four-kilometer-long cherry blossom display along the riverside, have canceled the popular nightime illuminations for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. They have asked the public to exercise self-restraint and understand that these cancellations are for everyone’s safety, as gatherings of large people can increase the risk of infection. Other popular parks have followed suit, and you can find a full list of cancellations in Tokyo at the end of this article.

But they can’t cancel the cherry blossoms, right?

Of course, it’s impossible to cancel spring itself or stop blossoms from blooming. It appears that, as of the time of writing, parks themselves will remain open to the public and popular cherry blossom thoroughfares will not be closed off. However, in an effort to reduce the number of attendees, and consequently people’s chance of infection, organized events such as street food markets and nightime illuminations will not go ahead. This also means parks may not set up the additional garbage bins and public toilets they usually provide, so make a mental note of the nearest restroom if you decide to go.

hanami under pink cherry blossoms - Japan Cherry Blossom Festival Canceled
Photo by iStock.com/Sean_Kuma

So no one can stop me going?

Correct. However, if you do decide to go ahead with a cherry blossom picnic, heed the advice of specialists and put public health first. According to Professor Futaki from Showa University School of Medicine, the safest way to enjoy a picnic is for each person to bring their own food and drink. If you share food as a group, he offers this advice to lower the risk of spreading infection:

  • Don’t touch food you’re not going to eat or eat food that others have touched.
  • Bring chopsticks/tongs for serving shared food—don’t grab food with chopsticks that have touched your mouth.
  • Don’t share the same bottle of drink. Instead, have a can/bottle for each person.
  • Instead of putting your hands in a bag and passing it around, open bags of snacks all the way and take from the top.
  • Sit 1–2 meters away from each other, or at least from other groups.

The coronavirus may be messing with your plans this month, but there are still plenty of things to see and do in Tokyo. So keep positive, wash your hands regularly, and enjoy Japan’s most beautiful season.

Official cherry blossom events canceled in Tokyo

Bunkyo Plum Blossom Festival
Chiyoda Cherry Blossom Festival
Edo Fukugawa Sakura Festival
Miura Kaigan Cherry Blossom Festival
Nakameguro Cherry Blossom Festival
Sumida Park Cherry Blossom Festival
Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival
Rikugien’s Mystical Weeping Cherry Tree Illumination

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