At the time I’m writing this article, I have been living in Japan for only a little over a year. The first year was tough, with a lot of things to learn, places to see, and people to know. One of the places I discovered in the past year was a little stream near my wife’s work my Japanese neighbor told me about.
At first, I didn’t pay much attention since I was still settling in, arranging the house, digging the garden, and following the step by step procedure to buy a car in Japan (which lasts for about 3 weeks crazy, right?) Little did I know that this place would turn out to be my favorite place ever to take Sakura photos.
Fast forward to this year 2020th. One morning I decided to wake up early, take my camera and backpack full of lenses and head to the place I knew about. And yes, this place has some attributes that make it even better for outdoor photo sessions. It even beats the more famous Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, in my own opinion. The aforementioned park tends to be overcrowded and on top of it all, it has an entrance fee.
Best place for family photo sessions during Sakura Season
In my opinion, this little stream is extremely cozy and romantic. It has amazing scenery and landscaping done by humans. To top it all off, it is little known — and this is exactly why it is the perfect place for any professional photographer who shoots outdoors family sessions. The lack of crowds, especially in the morning, makes the life easy for any outdoor portrait photographer shooting families and couples.
The stream of water it is shallow, and lined on each side by foot paths. During the peak of cherry blossom season, some parts of it are fully covered by tree branches, which turns it into a sakura tunnel. The little number of people I could see that morning were enjoying a special walk underneath the beautiful cherry blossoms in full bloom. At times, people would stop to take photos or simply just enjoy the breathtaking view.
After arriving at this amazing place, I took my time and fully enjoyed the view, taking photos and videos at a slow pace, making sure I didn’t miss a moment. We all know what’s happening around the world with this COVID-19 pandemic so I wanted to make the most of this moment, knowing that hard times may arrive in Japan too.
In spring 2020, Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) was banned by the government
During the 4 hours I was walking along the stream, either on the left or on the right side, I could see people coming and going. They were either walking in a hurry to get to work, or simply enjoying the beauty that nature has given us this spring. Due to obvious reasons and concerns, the authorities have banned this year’s hanami– which means sakura viewing. Usually, hanami is a full family picnic topped up with champagne toasting. This is a popular well known way for Japanese people to enjoy sakura. One thing worth mentioning is that foreigners and tourists alike have embraced this behavior. After all, picnics, champagne, and cherry blossoms make for a great combination to spend quality time with friends and family. All this time I could only see a few people sitting under the cherry trees. Considering how popular hanami is throughout Japan, people seem to respect the government ban.
Where is the best place for Sakura family photos if you are in vacation in Tokyo?
Time for a disclaimer. For me, the Tokyo Metropolitan Area includes a rather larger area which expands beyond the official 23 wards. Down below you can see an image of what it means to me. Image courtesy of Google Maps.
Well, if you were thinking my choice would be either Nakameguro or Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, you… didn’t guess right. Technically, this place is in Yokohama City, Kanagawa. The full address of this beautiful stream is according to Google: 261 Higashigatacho, Tsuzuki Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa 224-0045.
Don’t worry, it’s easy to find and Google does a great job taking you there (since recently Google allows its users to download offline maps for Japan, so you don’t have to worry about data, or depend on internet connection).
I arrived at this place on the east side of the stream, around 8AM when there was hardly anyone around, hoping to take loads of photos, as any other photographer would. I had walked the whole length of it both ways, never stopping to be impressed by the almost unbelievable scenery hidden deep in Yokohama. Probably an hour later, more people were arriving to take photos and enjoy walking under the secular sakura trees. At some point while walking on towards the west side of the stream, (the little river actually flows west to east) the scenery was completed by hundreds of beautiful white, yellow, red and pink tulips. It’s absolutely magical. As a tulip-lover, this is a dream come true.
The story behind my love for tulips is founded in my childhood, after my parents had bought a house from a florist. At that time, the whole garden had more than 10 thousand tulips blooming every spring. That’s a scene hard to forget and with deep roots in my heart. By chance, now I am living in Yokohama, in a house with a garden, where I have planted a few tulips which turned out to have flowers fantastically streaked with more than one color each. An interesting note about the tulips- the streaked colors were happening in the beginning of tulip growing due to a virus affecting the tulips. Eventually, the plant would die. Nowadays is not anymore the result of a virus, but rather due to breeding.
At some point before noon, the stream became busier, (nothing like it would have been on a regular basis in Nakameguro or Shinjuku Gyoen Park) at which point I decided to head back home but only after walking all the way back to the east side of the stream. This time instead of focusing my attention to the cherry trees and flowers, I walked outside of the stream chasing street style photos of people framed by blurry sakura petals. Although I saw sakura for the first time in 2014, only this year I could fall in love with them. The feeling I had while shooting around this place is hard to explain with words. Even the photos I took, if displayed chronologically, can show how gradually I became more and more connected with the place and it’s rich colored beauty. It took me a while to release my everyday stress and connect with the nature around me. Luckily, I did connect and my batteries were charged with a lot of positive energy, inspired by the fragile and gorgeous cherry blossoms and tulips.
I honestly think that it is hard to find another place that has such a great relaxed vibe while looking so amazing. That’s why I truly believe this is the best place I know in the whole of Yokohama and Tokyo for photo sessions during sakura season.
If there is one thing I have learned since living in Japan, it is to take a break, breathe and truly relax the body and the spirit. No, I’m not talking about the abstract Zen meditation state, but about an honest break from everyday life; from thoughts, from overthinking and trying even for just a brief moment TO BE there and then. Just like the fleeting delicate sakura petals, I allowed myself a little worry-free time. I must admit, this wasn’t the goal in itself, but a great achievement nevertheless. I am very thankful I have such a great opportunity in life to be a professional photographer because of which I am able to see things from many perspectives. I seriously doubt I would’ve visited this place otherwise.
From the kids running happily around the stream, one particular boy who was trying to catch little fishies took my attention with his energy and fishing boots. To what reason, I don’t know; what I can say is that his grandma was very carefully watching him for understandable safety reasons. This really allowed me to capture a couple of beautiful photographs that will make any avid fisherman in the whole world jealous.
Thinking retrospectively at the time I am writing these sentences, my plan was to make beautiful photos with Sakura Flowers. Of course, with enough work and patience the goal was relatively easy to achieve. The bonus, though, was the unexpected relaxation and the ability to enjoy the cherry blossom to yet another level I have never before been able to. This made me realize how short-sided I was in the first place and how much more nature has given me back. After this experience I realized that in the future I have to take a break and a step back to allow myself TO BE.
Thank you for reading the story of my experience and enjoy my blog. Don’t forget to follow me on various social media following the links bellow: