Plum Blossom Festival + Ueno Park

Absolutely gorgeous day out today.  We headed up to Tokyo for the Plum Blossom viewing, which spans from January to March.  For travelers in the vicinity, there are a myriad of sites all over Japan to view the blossoms; we happened to pick Yuushima Tenjin shrine near Okachimachi Station.  Yushima Tenjin is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a plum blossom aficionado and historical figure deified as a Shinto god of scholarship.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of wooden ema, or the wooden plates that people can write down their pleas to the gods.  Students come to ask for success on their high school or college entrance examinations, as evidenced by the myriad of plates crying, “GOKAKU KIGAN” or “Prayer for school success.”

Students looking at ema.

“Prayer for school success to Kitazono High School.”

Vendors at the shrine.

The first sighting of the blossoms.

Following our visit to Yuushima Tenjin, we made our way to Ueno Park.

Peonies with their snow-huts for protection.

Finally, we made our way back to Okachimachi Station, but not without first making a visit to Ameyoko or Ameya Yokocho (candy shop alley or, alternatively, America alley).  In the years following World War II, many American goods were sold here when the street was the site of a black market.  Now a plethora of things are available: candy, 100 yen store goods, clothing, fresh fish, fruit, street food, and much more.

A woman buying “giri chocolate.”  In Japan, it is customary for women to give men chocolate on Valentine’s Day.  If the man reciprocates, he will purchase chocolate for the woman on “White Day” (March 14th).  Quite a clever way for the Japanese companies to rake in more sales.  However, not such a pleasant experience for women, who do not only have to buy chocolate for the object of their affection, but the majority of male colleagues in the workplace.  “Giri” actually translates to “Obligatory.”  The same male colleagues will reciprocate a month later to those who gave them chocolate.

A. contemplating what to buy from a wall of okashi, or “snacks.”

The end to another successful day of sightseeing, until next time!

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