Cherry blossom viewing parties, also known as hanami, are a big deal in Japan. Every year in spring, groups of people gather under trees in bloom and have a little picnic or drinking party. Despite being such a big part of Japanese culture, hanami parties play little role in Murakami’s fiction. Nevertheless, some of the best places in Tokyo for hanami are parks which come up frequently in the author’s work.
This spring, why not enjoy hanami while exploring Murakami’s universe at the same time? Below are six excellent spots to do so.
*Please excuse the lack of cherry blossoms in the pictures below – the photos were taken out of season.
1. SHINJUKU GYOEN
Shinjuku Gyoen, also known as ‘Imperial Garden,’ was built in 1772 and remains one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks to this day. The park appears in the novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and it’s where protagonist Toru and his wife Kumiko went on one of their first dates.
Bear in mind that Shinjuku Gyoen is the only place on this list where alcoholic drinks are prohibited. This is an ideal location for those who want a more peaceful hanami and to more quietly appreciate the over 1,000 cherry trees which can be found in the park.
2. INOKASHIRA PARK
Inokashira Park is the main attraction of the Kichijoji neighborhood and it’s one of the nicest parks in all of Tokyo. The park makes an appearance in two beloved Haruki Murakami novels. In Norwegian Wood, Watanabe lives close by the park in the latter half of the novel. In Sputnik Sweetheart, Sumire lives here in the beginning of the book and often relaxes on the park benches with K.
3. YOYOGI PARK
Yoyogi Park is perhaps Tokyo’s most beloved park. Sakura season or not, no visit to Tokyo would be complete without a walk through Yoyogi. Despite its fame, Yoyogi only makes a few minor appearances in Murakami’s work.
In Sputnik Sweetheart, Sumire moves from Kichijoji to an area just next to Yoyogi Park. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Creta Kano briefly mentions the park (along with Shinjuku Gyoen) as a place where she used to go and cry.
Aside from hanami, Yoyogi Park is also known for its outdoor festivals which are abundant in the spring and summer time.
4. AOYAMA CEMETERY
The massive Aoyama Cemetery, frequently mentioned throughout South of the Border, West of the Sun, is one of the most interesting places in central Tokyo. It houses the graves of people like shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa and even the famous dog Hachiko. It’s also a great place to see the sakura cherry blossoms.
It should go without saying that as this is a cemetery, no hanami parties are allowed here. But it’s still a fascinating and peaceful place to visit during your time in the Aoyama neighborhood.
5. UENO PARK
Ueno Park is another famous Tokyo park which also hosts a number of Tokyo’s most well-known museums. Additionally, this is also where you can find Ueno Zoo. The zoo is where Toru and Kumiko saw some jellyfish in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and it also makes an appearance in the short story Honey Pie. Ueno Station, just across from the park, also plays a significant role in Norwegian Wood.
Ueno Park is one of Tokyo’s most crowded cherry blossom viewing spots. If the crowds and noise become too much to handle, you can always stop in a nearby museum such as the Tokyo National Museum or the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
6. HIBIYA PARK
Hibiya Park, one of the best-known parks in Tokyo’s eastern half, makes an appearance at the end of two Murakami novels. In the epilogue of his first novel Hear The Wind Sing, the narrator mentions feeding pigeons here with his wife. Hibiya Park is also where the narrator of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World goes on the final date with his librarian girlfriend.
Hibiya Park is not quite as famous for hanami as other Tokyo parks. For some this may be a good thing, as it can make for a more relaxing hanami session.