By Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture
From Mt. Yoshino to Ueno: A sakura dream sown by a Buddhist monk
Ueno has a high priest to thank for its sea of sakura. In 1625, the monk Tenkai chose Ueno as for the site of Kaneiji temple, which is known as “the Hieizan of the East.” Taking a cue from Enryakuji temple, which is situated to the northeast of the Kyoto Imperial Palace as a line of karmic defense in an inauspicious quadrant of the city, Tenkai similarly envisioned Kaneiji as watching over Edo Castle from its perch in northeastern Ueno. More than warding off evil alone, Tenkai wanted the new temple to be a place of rest and relaxation for the locals, and he set about recreating landmarks from the Hieizan area. This included, of course, the famed cherry blossoms from Mt. Yoshino in Nara. Cherry trees were transplanted from the mountain to the hills of Ueno to create the premier flower-viewing destination in Edo.
Hiroshige Utagawa "Tohto Famous Place Ueno Toeizan no Zu": From the National Diet Library Digital CollectionUeno, a Global Capital of Culture
The cherry blossoms at Toeizan Temple became a well-known landmark that even earned inclusion in Utagawa Hiroshige’s series, “Famous Places in the Eastern Capital.
Utagawa Hiroshige, “Famous Places in the Eastern Capital: Toeizan Temple at Ueno” (National Diet Library Digital Collection)
A spectrum of color that defies description
Ueno’s gardens helped introduce cherry blossoms to the masses, and flower-viewing quickly became a popular pastime, igniting a sakura boom. Botanists and hobbyists further cultivated new trees, including the iconic somei yoshino varietal, which was developed at the end of the Edo period. Although the color of the flowers was initially described with the blanket adjective “light crimson,” over time the delicate blossoms inspired wordsmiths to devise new name to describe the colors, expanding the Japanese color palette with words such as ususakura (“light cherry”) and haizakura (“ashen cherry”). In the present day, a whopping 800 varieties of sakura can be found across Ueno, and they transform Ueno Park into a tapestry of pastel pinks and whites each spring.
Sakura floating on the waterUeno, a Global Capital of Culture
A cascade of petals drifts across the pond in a beautifully ephemeral sign of spring.
Shinobazu Pond over SakuraUeno, a Global Capital of Culture
All corners of Ueno Park blush light pink in sakura season.
Sakura that shines in the blue skyUeno, a Global Capital of Culture
Light pink cherry blossoms stand out in clear relief against a pure blue sky.
Woodblock prints are pretty in pink all year long
Ueno’s sakura made frequent cameos in ukiyo-e woodblock prints. From Hiroshige Utagawa to Toyokuni, Edo-period artists depicted the beauty of Ueno’s cherry blossoms in masterpieces such as “36 Famous and Interesting Things in Edo: Cherry Trees in Full Bloom at Toeizan” and “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: Kiyomizu Hall and Shinobazu Pond at Ueno.” Combining a vivid vermillion color palette with the light pink of the flowers to eye-catching effect, ukiyo-e prints would have let people throughout Edo enjoy Ueno’s cherry blossoms all year round.
Utagawa Hiroshige/Utagawa Toyokuni, “36 Famous and Interesting Things in Edo: Cherry Trees in Full Bloom at Toeizan” (National Diet Library Digital Collection)
Hiroshige Utagawa "One Hundred Famous Views of Edo Ueno Shimizudo Shinobazu no Ike": From the National Diet Library Digital CollectionUeno, a Global Capital of Culture
A woodblock print depicting the sakura at Ueno’s Kiyomizu Kannon-do, which was modeled after Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto.
Utagawa Hiroshige, “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: Kiyomizu Hall and Shinobazu Pond at Ueno” (National Diet Library Digital Collection)
Courtesy of Implementation Committee for New Concept "Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture” (Ueno Cultural Park)
Photos: Takehiro Goto
Text: Emi Iwamoto
Editing: Sayaka Tsukuda