The Sakura Tunnel, made up of 400 cherry blossom trees that line Tomioka’s Yo no Mori district, made the area a well-known hanami (flower-viewing) spot. However, following 3.11, the fantastic cherry trees could no longer be enjoyed in the springtime. That all changed this April.
This April, for the first time in 7 years, visitors have been filling the streets throughout the day and during the evening too, for fantastic views of the sakura trees lit up from below. The light-display takes place until April 16th, and the illumination of the trees starts at 6pm and finishes at 8pm.
All areas of Tomioka, excluding those labeled as ‘Difficult-to-Return Zone’, had evacuation orders lifted on April 1st 2017, meaning that former residents can now return home, and anybody can stay overnight in the town without applying for permission – something that was not possible prior to April 1st.
Over half of the Yo no Mori district’s beautiful sakura trees stand within Difficult-to-Return Zones, meaning that those visiting the park over the last week won’t have been able to walk the full length of the former cherry blossom spot.
Barricades currently block entrance to the Difficult-to-Return Zone, but visitors can still enjoy over 100 cherry blossom trees in the area close to the Junior High School.
Another area is also lit up on the west side of Yo no Mori Station. My visit to this area coincided perfectly with the setting of the sun, meaning that I got to see the flowers in daylight, the warm glow of sunset, and basking in the bright lights of the light-up display.
The 900 year old, 13 meter tall weeping cherry tree inside the grounds of Hosenji Temple has also been lit up for the first time in 7 years. The grounds of this temple have been lovingly looked after and cared for by former-residents who were evacuated to Iwaki since the disaster.
For the people of Tomioka, this year’s event is a symbol of hope of things to come. That being said, the abandoned buildings on either side of the road and the barricades cutting through the centre of the cherry blossom tunnel are a stark reminder that everything is not exactly as it was.
However, as the sky darkened, the barricades and empty houses slid into shadows, and the blossoms slowly began to glitter with light. Standing in the centre of the long road, looking straight at the rows of trees, it was possible for me to imagine how this area would have looked 8 years ago.
Although the light shows of years gone by were held with tourists and visitors from near and far in mind, this year’s light show was for the people of Tomioka – for those who have returned with cautious hopes, and for those who have not.
It is a reminder of the excitement and beauty of the town that these people loved, and still love. A symbol of the blossoming of splendor from the tiniest spaces. The joy of nature and the cycle of spring after winter, of warmth after cold.