I traveled to Japan at the beginning of March. At that point of the year, spring begins to peak its head in parts of Japan, but to expect even the first bloom of cherry blossoms is asking a lot. For most of my trip, I was in Aomori trudging through snow, checking out ski resorts and even learning that those barren tree branches — the ones covered in snow — would transform into the most striking display of cherry blossoms with late April’s hotter weather.
By the time I arrived in Tokyo, I was still resigned to the fact that I was going to miss the start of cherry blossom season by only a small margin. It was a warm day and I stumbled upon Shinjuku Gyoen, a garden within walking distance from my hotel. And there they were, sprouting from the trees in their unmistakable light pink glory: the very first blooms of cherry blossoms — in probably the entire country.
It was a joyous moment and not just because I was seeing them for the first time or because it was a surprise. In fact, I was most impressed by the people: Locals equipped with their SLR cameras, tripods, easels and even pink-and-white outfits filled the park. It felt like everyone was seeing the blossoms for the first time. That festive feeling throughout Shinjuku Gyoen reflected one of my favorite qualities about Japan. The country’s reverence for nature and beauty is widespread but not vain, and the resulting happiness, peace and community are truly beautiful.