Summer Travel Series: Japan in Bloom

By Canopy Team on July 17, 2017

Welcome to the second installment of Canopy’s Summer Travel Series! Follow along with us as we journey to the southern US, Central America, and beyond, encountering a diverse range of fun and unique trees. New stories from the Canopy team published every other week. 

Read our first post by Natalie Brubaker, who offers a peek into her trip to Florida and her encounter with a very interesting fruit tree. 

Next up, join Community Forestry Program Manager Elise Willis as she takes us on a journey to Japan during cherry blossom season.

P.S. Are you traveling this summer? We’d love to see your tree photos and hear your stories! Email to [email protected] or tag us on Facebook or Instagram.

Cherry Blossoms, Camphor Trees, and Totoro

Last spring I enjoyed my first trip to Japan! I was there April 3rd through 15th, the height of Japanese cherry blossom season, and I experienced the wonders of spring in 4 different cities: Tokyo, Hakone, Osaka, and Kyoto. In each of these cities I was absolutely enchanted by the landscapes and culture, and delighted to see some familiar trees in their native habitat.

In Tokyo, I witnessed the largest camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora) my eyes have ever beheld. As I walked down sacred paths under lush green canopies I admired the effortless integration of temples and trees. The camphor tree is a true forest giant in Japan, yet somehow is still included in even the pocket-sized parks and gardens. The new growth forms like reddish-green puffs on the branches, looking almost like a light green cloud framing the pagodas. And I would be remiss to not mention that these are the trees that the forest spirits live in in the popular animated movie My Neighbor Totoro!

Camphor-lined pathway in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo
Camphor-lined pathway in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo

In Osaka, the Japanese flowering cherries (Prunus spp.) were of many shapes, sizes, and varieties of color, and in bloom beyond my wildest dreams! Upon our arrival, seemingly every street and garden was illuminated with tunnels of pink and white blossoms. Sakura is another name for these iconic trees, and they are widely celebrated during this precious time of year – spring! The walkways of Kemasakuranomiya Park (“Sakura Temple” Park) are dappled with soft light and cast off petals, and people bask in the shade and beauty as they picnic with friends along the Osaka River.

Kemasakuranomiya Park
Kemasakuranomiya Park in one of Osaka’s most famous cherry blossom districts

Prunus is the genus name for these amazing trees, and there are over 200 species! Flowering cherries can be deciduous or evergreen, are usually 20 to 30 feet tall, and can be found in a variety of colors due to people popularizing hybrids and cultivars.

Sakura trees in Osaka
Just some of the glorious hues of sakura in Osaka

Gardens, Temples, and Shrines 

In Kyoto, home to an abundance of temples, gardens, and shrines, I experienced some of Japan’s most iconic features and cultural experiences. Toji Temple was bustling with women in beautiful kimonos, dressed as lovely as some of the trees! A bamboo forest, the famous shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree) at the center of Maruyama Park, and a wild monkey park (Iwatayama) were just some of the natural sights to enjoy.

Buddhist Temple in Kyoto
Women in kimonos enjoying the green gardens around a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto

I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit Japan, and blessed with good fortune to see it in bloom! I hope to visit again soon, maybe in the fall when it’s the Japanese maple’s time in the spotlight, or in summer when all is green and bright!

Elise sitting on rock in Japan
That’s me, just enjoying the boundless beauty and serenity of one of the multitude of parks I visited while traveling in Japan.

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