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Enjoy blooming cherry blossoms at sites in and near Tokyo

During a previous bloom, there were plenty of blue tarps spread across the open fields overlooking the beautiful cherry blossoms at Yoyogi Park as large crowds still came out to celebrate hanami, Japan's annual cherry blossom viewing celebration.

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By ERIC GUZMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 17, 2015

The cherry blossom, or sakura, has been a cultural hallmark in Japanese art and literature for centuries, and the fun associated with the two weeks of hanami -- flower viewing --  season has become a U.S. custom, too.

In 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador to the U.S., planted two cherry blossom trees in Washington, D.C. — the first of more than 3,000 that would eventually bloom along the Tidal Basin. Since then, hanami season has become the cause of much annual fanfare in both countries, representing both the start of spring and the unity between two nations.

While those in the Pacific might miss out on the sakura viewing in Washington, D.C., there’s really no better place than Japan to watch the cherry blossoms bloom.

While there are hundreds of locations both in and outside of Tokyo with cherry blossom viewing available, there are a few must-see locations that citizens and expatriates alike owe it to themselves to visit before the petals fall.

Yoyogi Park, probably the busiest and most lively location in Tokyo proper, is usually packed end-to-end with young people sitting atop blue tarpaulins enjoying food and drink with friends.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, with its 200 yen cover charge, no-alcohol policy and early closing time is usually a bit quieter than most other places in Tokyo, but it is the perfect location for families to visit for a serene afternoon enjoying the blossoms.

The Meguro River, which has a night illumination of the blossoms that runs the entirety of the blooming season, is great for couples or for people that can’t make the viewing during the day. Just a two-minute walk from Nakameguro station, the streets are littered with vendors selling food and drink, and the location, while a bit urban and heavy on the concrete, is beautiful at night.

For those looking to get away from the crowds, Mount Takao, west of Tokyo, is a great location for both viewing the bloom and enjoying local cuisine. Visitors can make the short hike to the top of Mount Takao or take a trolley to the top to see every tree around for miles.

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A young couple dances while enjoying hanami at Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo in 2011.
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