Spring has not just sprung in Vancouver; it has exploded in a riot of delicate pink and white cherry blossoms that pop up across the city before falling like a floral snow all over the streets of downtown. Japan’s influence on Vancouver can be seen amongst the numerous sushi joints and Asian fusion food on the menu of the city’s restaurants but it becomes most evident when the sakura, cherry trees, blossom in April every year.
Cherry trees found their way to Vancouver in the 1930s as a gift of 500 from the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama in Japan to honour Japanese Canadians who fought in WW2. By the 1950s, Vancouver’s Park Board was finding that many people had planted huge oak and maple trees along the streets and these were growing too large in the mild, wet climate – cherry trees were planted as a smaller and prettier alternative. Today, forty thousand cherry trees spring to life every year and dedicated spotters compile online maps of the best places to see the trees as part of the annual Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.
Hosting a whole roster of special sakura events, the festival takes place throughout April and features celebrations such as the Cherry Jam musical concert by Burrard Skytrain Station; cherry blossom painting at the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens and a Sakura Days two-day fair of Japanese food, dancing, sake drinking and traditional shakuhachi (flute) playing. Tree talks and walks are organised by the festival and take in some of the most scenic spots to appreciate the sakura. Blossom picnics take place at the Larry Berg Flight Path Park in Richmond – a newly reopened park next to YVR airport – and on Saturday 26th April at 11am a Bike the Blossoms tour starts from China Creek South Park on the east side of Vancouver.
Cherry Blossoms are not just for daytime enjoyment though – the annual Sakura Night was held at the legendary Tojo’s Japanese restaurant early in April but it’s still possible to have a taste of the flowers. Miku Restaurant, situated down by Canada Place and the cruise terminal, features a special sakura roll for April. The delicate rolls feature ebi, steamed asparagus, Aburi bincho wrapped in soy and topped with strawberries, tai kobu-jime, cherry blossoms, and shiso leaves. Known for it’s special “˜aburi’ style of sushi, the modern restaurant uses the 100-year-old Japanese method of flame-searing sushi and brings a modern twist to old techniques.
Drink in the beautiful blossoms with a stroll through the West End near Stanley Park, where many blossoms can be found, or literally drink them at La Pentola restaurant inside the OPUS Hotel in Yaletown. Head bartender Martin Corriveau creates quirky cocktails with an emphasis on seasonal sips and it doesn’t get much more spring-inspired than the Kibana-Hime, which is named after the blossom goddess that watches over Mount Fuji and takes its inspiration from sweet Japanese sakura tea. The pretty potent mix of genever, kirsch, Martini Bianco and Cherry Heering is garnished with a preserved cherry blossom.
YEW bar at the Four Seasons is also getting into the spring spirit with a cherry blossom cocktail that features Grey Goose vodka, lime juice, cherry syrup and tangerine & cassis brewed tea – a dollar from each cocktail goes to the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Foundation to support local cultural events.
If that doesn’t light up your life the Sakura Illumination pop-up event is sure to brighten up the blossoms for you. Artist Stuart Ward runs a one-off installation every year that involves illuminating a canopy of cherry trees with LEDs and patterned video lights; making the blossoms dance under the changing colours and creating a mesmerizing show.
Celebrating the fleeting ethereal beauty of the cherry blossoms can be done independently and the city offers an array of quiet corners for reflection. Keep an eye out in Kitsilano, wander the West End to see streets such as Comox alight with colour or head to nearby Stanley Park to see rows of trees blossoming near the rose garden and Japanese Canadian WW2 memorial.
Queen Elizabeth Park, close to the chi-chi shops of South Cambie Street, is awash with flowers between March and April, with trees blooming at various intervals. Van Dusen Botanical Garden hosts many festival events and has 100 cherry trees representing 24 varietals.
For a truly Japanese experience head to UBC’s Nitobe Memorial Garden – a walled Japanese garden that features traditional flowers and a feng shui approach to gardening that creates a calm and collected space to spot the sakura. Wherever you stroll in Vancouver in April, the city will be blooming marvellous.Header photo © Joseph Lin
Have you visited Vancouver during cherry blossom season? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Amy Watkins