Japan is incredibly densely populated. Although there is a large land area (made up of four large islands and thousands of smaller ones) much of it is uninhabitable. The population of 130 million or so huddle in strips near the coast.
Jon lives in Saitama City but there is little agricultural land between his flat and central Tokyo. You cross a couple of rivers but no fields. Imagine suburbia in Britain with no gardens and the houses right next to each other. Then add a few blocks of apartments every fifth or sixth house and you get the picture.
This first view is from Tokyo's Sunshine tower. It is the second highest building in Tokyo - we tried to go up the highest but it was closed to the public on the day of our visit. You will notice we look down on a thirty storey office block. The express elevator up the sixty storey tower did 60 floors in 30 seconds. The first five floors are marked, off, then floors 15, 25, 35, 45, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60. My ears popped twice on the way up and once on the way down. I'm one pop short of equilibrium. In the corners of the viewing floor the glass goes right down to the floor and you can stand next to it and look down. If you want to. I didn't.
So, as few people have
gardens, the parks are very popular. As spring arrives it becomes warm enough to sit in the park and the custom has grown up of picnicking under the blossom of cherry trees. People go crazy photographing blossom. They'd rather have a blooming cherry tree in the background of a family photo than anything else in all the world. Here are some pictures of some blossom, of us watching people photographing blossom (Jon joining in). And one of me being ironic. Can you guess which, viewers?
The parties in the parks seem gentle enough with families and groups of friends pitching up with blue plastic groundsheets. You can see our rather poor effort at same. Also Carys with a cherry blossom flavoured ice-cream. A sort of Vimto Mr Whippy if the truth be told. Jon says that as dusk falls the parties turn into massive binge drinking affairs. There are side stalls selling fast food products which vary from their take on toffee apples, to barbecued herring or bean-curd in pastry - a delicacy.
Come the autumn the whole thing is repeated with maple leaves being the focus of attention although, as Jon says, this is a nation which has a ceremony when they turn on the air conditioning.