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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



Mon.-Fri.  20:00 - 20:40 (JST)

Celebration of Spring

Apr. 3, 2015

Many people consider spring a time of renewal. In Japan, they also think of cherry blossoms-- a national symbol. A wave of pink is moving across the nation as the flowers bloom from south to north. NHK WORLD's Mikiko Suzuki has been enjoying the sakura in Tokyo.

The cherry blossoms in Tokyo went into full bloom earlier this week. I'm standing in Nihonbashi, a business district near Tokyo Station. The pink and white flowers are offering a hint of spring to this area. The trees were planted decades ago as part of Japan's post-war revitalization. About 170 trees have created a beautiful canopy of flowers.

These blossoms are fleeting. They last just 10 days, so almost everyone takes time to enjoy them. People often take part in 'hanami' -- a tradition of picnicking beneath the blossoming trees. Friends and coworkers gather to share food and drink and soak up the atmosphere. For the past couple of decades, the residents of this area have closed off part of the street to make room for the picnics.

The party has already started over here. The people are enjoying the flowers.

Great food is a must for any hanami party. These tents sell tasty treats. This one is run by people from Kamaishi-- a city in the northeast that is recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They're sharing their regional cuisine, from boiled saury to crab miso-soup.

Kamaishi is also a big rugby town. It's scheduled to host the Rugby World Cup in 2019. The non-profit group "Scrum Kamaishi" is running this tent to highlight the city's fighting spirit and to contribute to reconstruction.

It's Friday night here in Tokyo, so thousands of people are out all over the city enjoying hanami parties.

Shibuya: Mikiko, there seem to be a lot of people from overseas enjoying the cherry blossoms.

Suzuki: Yes, if you look around, you can find people from all over the world. In fact, Hanami has been getting more popular among foreign tourists and ex-pats. Some foreign visitors travel across the country to get the most out of cherry blossom season. Take a look.

Tokyo's Ueno Park is a famous hanami spot. Some tourists come straight here after arriving in the country, suitcases and all. They say they travelled to Japan just to see the flowers, and are really enjoying them.

More and more tourists from China and Thailand are enjoying this year's cherry blossom season. One travel company says this year has been the most popular season it's seen so far. Bus companies are delighted with the increase in customers, but they're struggling to keep up. One company says it's short of buses and staff.

This shopping district is also booming. A shop owner says the number of tourists usually drops after lunar new year, but this year, sales have jumped 30 to 40 percent. Local shop owners are offering travelers free WiFi.

People who want to hold hanami parties have to be strategic because space is limited. It's common to head out early to save a spot. Even at 6am, there are only a few spots left. Some even camp out the previous night.

Despite all the cheer, some people are spending this cherry blossom season worrying about those to come. These trees were planted after World War Two to bring color and joy to Japan. But as they age, many are growing weak or succumbing to disease. Strong winds or heavy snow can knock them down.

Yナォji Kimura leads a group of volunteers that cares for the 800 trees in Ueno Park. Municipal crews and volunteers mark the trees that are at risk. They fertilize the weak ones to revitalize them. The volunteers also graft branches to cultivate the next generation of cherry blossoms. They say they must take good care of the trees to maintain the park's reputation as one of Japan's premier hanami sites.

It takes a lot of love and care to preserve these beautiful trees. Residents of Nihonbashi have also been volunteering to make sure everyone can appreciate the flowers for years to come.

Cherry trees have long created a sense of community in Japan. With the growing numbers of foreign residents and tourists, that community is getting bigger and more diverse.