It's officially cherry blossom season in Japan, after the country's Metrological Agency declared Sunday the first day of full bloom.
The exact timing of the cherry blossom season varies from year to year and 2022's full bloom reached Tokyo on Sunday.
It comes after the first blooms were spotted on Tokyo's Somei Yoshino tree on March 20, four days earlier than expected. The prefecture's 600-plus trees are now bathed in pink and the season is expected to run across the country until April 29, when the last full bloom to blossom is forecast to reach Sapora, in Japan's north.
Each year, over the course of a few weeks, cherry trees in Japan burst into bloom, painting prefectures in shades of pink and white in something that has become both a national obsession and an international tourist draw. But this year, with Japan remaining off-limits to most tourists owing to Covid-19 restrictions, its famed sakura season will have fewer visitors.
In 2019, before the global pandemic, an estimated 63 million people travelled to and within Japan to view the blooms, spending about $2.7 billion in the process, according to an analysis from Kansai University. This year, the only international visitors who will be able to see the blooms are students and business travellers as border restrictions in place mean that other tourists are still prohibited from entry.
Japan's cherry blossom season typically marks the recession of winter with a rosy wave of flowers making their way across the archipelago. Traditional hanami parties typically take place across the country at the same time, with people gathering under the sakura to enjoy the flowers and public picnics. During the pandemic, authorities have asked people to refrain from holding these parties, although visitors are still able to go and admire the blooms.
Cooler temperatures in Japan can extend the life of the fragile flowers, but if warmer weather or rough storms roll in, the blooms may fall faster.
Last year, blooms peaked at the earliest date since records began 1,200 years ago, with the city of Kyoto recording full bloom on March 26, according to data collected by Osaka University.
Travel to Japan has been heavily restricted since the onset of the global pandemic.
In 2020, the country closed its borders to visitors. On March 1, authorities eased measures slightly, opening to foreigners travelling to Japan for short-term business, education or employment reasons and long-term stays.
Despite strict lockdowns, the country is currently battling another wave of coronavirus infections and recorded 45,658 new cases on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins.