TOKYO, JAPAN: (World View Media, Reuters)
An early spring in Japan is tempting cherry blossom fans in Tokyo, even as the government requests people to stay home to fend off another surge in COVID-19 infections.
The flowers known as “sakura” were in full bloom on Tuesday (March 23), almost two weeks earlier than usual. The age-old tradition of “hanami” typically attracts throngs of people to parks to sit under cherry trees for picnics, singing, and drinking.
Young and old people wearing masks strolled around the perimeter of the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo, taking pictures and posing for selfies among the trees. “Many people came here today to see cherry blossoms because the news reported yesterday that they’d be in full bloom,” said Mieko Ozawa, a Tokyo resident in her 70s.
In a video address on Monday, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged citizens to stay on guard to keep infections down, and to keep hanami activities to “just looking.” Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures on Sunday emerged from a state of emergency declared just after New Year’s as a third, deadly wave of COVID-19 infections brought the medical system to the brink of collapse. Under the emergency, the government asked businesses to close early and for citizens to telework and limit gatherings.
New daily infections were 337 in Tokyo on Tuesday, far lower than the peak of 2,520 on Jan. 7 but still too high for the government to completely relax its stance.
Many parks in the capital region are prohibiting hanami this year, with some erecting temporary fences to keep people from gathering near the trees. “Since it’s outside, I think it’s fine as long as it doesn’t get overcrowded,” said a 73-year Tokyo resident Hideo Mizutani. “Of course we need to be more careful.”
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