If it's spring in Tokyo, it must be cherry blossom season. Every year thousands of people flock to parks to admire the flowering trees. The cherry tree, or Sakura, is seen as an important part of the Japanese identity. The blooms symbolise new beginnings and fresh starts. Schools and companies begin their new year in spring, around the time when the blossoms are in full bloom.

The Japanese tradition of hanami – or cherry blossom viewing picnic – has survived relatively unchanged since about the eighth century. Friends and family get together in city parks for parties that last well into the night under the pale pink blossom.

cherry blossom Japan
A woman smiles among the cherry blossoms in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace in TokyoThomas Peter/Reuters
cherry blossom Japan
Visitors admire cherry blossoms in TokyoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
cherry blossom Japan
Young women wearing traditional costume pose for portraits under the cherry blossoms at Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
A man poses for a portrait under the cherry trees in Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
Visitors row a boat in Tokyo's Chidorigafuchi moat, covered with petalsIssei Kato/Reuters
cherry blossom Japan
A man photographs cherry blossoms in TokyoIssei Kato/Reuters
cherry blossom Japan
A man takes pictures of a flowering cherry tree in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace in TokyoThomas Peter/Reuters
cherry blossom Japan
The Tokyo Tower is seen lit up as visitors row boats in a moat surrounding Edo Castle in TokyoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
cherry blossom Japan
People stroll across a bridge under cherry blossoms in TokyoToru Yamanaka/AFP
cherry blossom Japan
People eat and drink as they admire the blossom in Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
People enjoy food and drink under the cherry trees in Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
A man keeps a spot for his friends under the trees in Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
Young men sleep on mats as they prepare for a party under the trees in Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
People prepare for a party under the cherry blossoms at Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
A man carries mats for a party under the cherry trees in Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
A TV presenter talks about the cherry blossoms in Tokyo's Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
Young men pose under the cherry blosssom in Tokyo's Ueno parkTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
Friends practise 'Hanami' – picnicking under a blooming Sakura tree in Ueno Park, TokyoTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
Cherry blossoms are illuminated next to Roppongi Hills Mori Tower building in TokyoToru Hanai/Reuters
cherry blossom Japan
People pose for pictures under the cherry blossoms at Ueno park in TokyoTaro Karibe/Getty Images
cherry blossom Japan
A television cameraman films cherry blossoms at the Imperial Palace in TokyoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP

The arrival of the cherry blossom is a national obsession, with news reports providing constant updates on exactly where and when the flowers will appear. This year the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) made the official announcement on 21 March – five days earlier than average and two days earlier than last year. The season officially kicks off when an official confirms at least five or six blossoms have bloomed on a specific cherry blossom tree at Tokyo Yasukuni shrine.