Japan welcomes spring with first cherry blossoms
TOKYO (Reuters) - Spring has officially arrived in Japan.
Cherry blossoms flowered in Tokyo and two other prefectures in Japan, the first of this season in designated observation areas across the country, the Japan Meteorological Agency said on Saturday.
The emergence of the delicate, pale pink blooms is something of a national obsession, the focus of close media attention during the month or so it takes for the "cherry front" to move from south to north.
The cherry blossoms, or Sakura in Japanese, opened in Tokyo and Shizuoka prefecture six days earlier than usual, while blossoms in southern Japan's Kumamoto prefecture flowered two days earlier, according to the agency.
A Meteorological Agency official said recent warm days helped speed up the opening of those cherry blossoms.
The announcement is made when five or six blossoms are observed on special "benchmark" trees in the city.
In Tokyo, the benchmarks are several ancient trees in the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to the war dead.
Families, friends and office workers crowd parks to eat and drink beer and sake as they admire the blossoms in often raucous "hanami" parties.
(Reporting by Aiko Hayashi; Editing by David Fox)