This little local temple is a must-see sakura spot for anyone exploring Tokyo in the spring.
Established more than 400 years ago in the year 1609, Chomyoji Temple is a quiet outpost of Japan’s Nichiren school of Buddhism, which follows the teachings of the 13th-century Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren. Despite the centuries of temple history, and a beautiful bell tower that has survived since the 1600s, most of the visitors who arrive throughout the year are local residents, many of whom are coming to pay their respects at the temple’s graveyard. Chomyoji Temple was in fact constructed with mourning in mind, having been built in part to mourn the spirits and honor the dead who had fallen in battle. However, a different kind of visitor starts arriving at the temple around mid-March each year, coming for one very different purpose: hanami.
Chomyoji Temple’s cherry blossom tree is believed to be around 40~50 years old, and over the years it has grown up, out, and over, now hanging gracefully above the heads of visitors walking to the temple’s main hall. The elegant, dangling branches are a key characteristic of this particular variety of sakura, generally called “weeping cherry blossom” trees in English, or “shidare-zakura” (枝垂れ桜) in Japanese. There is evidence of these weeping cherry blossoms being found in Japan as far back as the Heian period (794-1185), but as recessive characteristic of the cherry tree, the pendulous branches of Chomyoji Temple’s towering tree – dripping with little whitish-pink flowers – are still a rare treat for the eyes.
One other feature of these weeping cherry blossoms is their slightly early blooming period! Although sakura season starts at a slightly different time each year, Tokyo’s biggest sakura spots usually line up with the flowering period of the “Somei Yoshino” (ソメイヨシノ) or Yoshino Cherry variety of sakura, which tend to come into bloom around the last week of March. Weeping cherry blossoms bloom a little bit earlier, and often look their best around mid-March, making them an excellent choice for travelers arriving in Tokyo a little bit early for other sakura spots.
The beautiful cherry blossoms at Chomyoji Temple make it a must-see sakura spot, but there’s no denying that the temple is still a small space without too much else to see. The temple is conveniently accessible from Nippori Station, and admission is free, but after taking in the flowers (and admiring the centuries-old bell tower), visitors might end up wondering what to do next. Fortunately, the surrounding Yanesen area of Tokyo is a great part of the city to explore on foot! Yanaka Ginza shopping street can be found just steps from the temple, full of little shops and places to grab a bite to eat, with plenty of local restaurants and trendy cafes within a few minutes walk. And for visitors who arrive towards the end of March, nearby Yanaka Cemetery is actually another one of Tokyo’s best-kept sakura secrets! (Even Ueno Park, one of the city’s most famous hanami destinations, is within easy walking distance.) There’s plenty to see after visiting Chomyoji Temple, for those who want to see another side of Tokyo!
Chomyoji Temple (長明寺)
5-10-10 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo
Access: 5 min from Nippori Station, Nishi-Nippori Station, or Sendagi Station
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