SAKURA SAKURA

Photos: This year’s cherry blossom season in Japan will be beautiful, and especially lucrative

Cherry blossoms, and the thousands of tourists that follow them, have descended on Japan. Hanami, or blossom viewing season, traditionally falls between March and May, and attracts hordes of tourists who chase the brief bloom of the trees across Japan. This year, a weakened Japanese yen is expected to attract a record number of visitors from elsewhere in Asia as well.

In Japanese cherry blossom lore, the pink buds are supposed to embody the spirit of the samurai—warriors whose time on earth is brief but glorious. Northern Japan will see the best blooms in late April and May. (Here is a calendar for the expected bloom dates.)

#サクラ#さくら#満開

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Japan, currently the fourth largest travel and tourism economy in the world, is increasingly dependent on foreign visitors to fuel its economic recovery. A stated goal of Abenomics is to double visitors by 2020 to 20 million, and Japan has been relaxing visas and adding foreigner-friendly conveniences to meet that goal.

Tourism’s contribution the economy has grown steadily since 2003, and made up 2.2% of GDP in 2013. That contribution is expected to grow by 1.4% a year to ¥12.47 trillion or 2.3% of GDP by 2024, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

But this year’s figures suggest that prediction could be surpassed—as of February, the number of foreign tourists to Japan was up by 58% year on year, thanks mostly to a 159% increase in tourists from China.

Foreign-tourists-visiting-Japan-Foreign-visitors_chartbuilder

Sakura, cherry blossom, season is going to be huge. An estimated 350,000 Chinese are expected to spend as much as $1.1 billion on viewing tours and buying up things like cherry blossom bath salts, flavored sake, and blossom themed jewelry and food. The number of Korean tourists is expected to increase by 70% during the period as well, according to the Korean Daily.

Japan’s cherry blossoms have diplomatic value too: in 1912, the country gave a little over 3,000 trees to the United States. Many of those now line the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., which is also in full bloom right now.

A man views cherry blossoms in full bloom on a bridge over the Oka river in Yokohama
A man views cherry blossoms in full bloom on a bridge over the Oka river in Yokohama. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
A woman takes a picture of cherry blossoms in full bloom in Tokyo March 30, 2015.  REUTERS/Toru Hanai - RTR4VF02
A woman takes a picture of cherry blossoms in full bloom in Tokyo at the end of March. (Reuters/Toru Hanai)
Visitors rowing a boat take pictures at the Chidorigafuchi moat covered with petals of cherry blossoms in Tokyo April 4, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino - RTR4W2NK
The Chidorigafuchi moat in Tokyo is covered with petals of cherry blossoms. (Reuters/Yuya Shino)
A woman wears a paper bag on her head as she stands in front of cherry trees in full bloom in Ueno Park on a sunny day in Tokyo, March 30, 2015.   REUTERS/Thomas Peter - RTR4VF09
A woman covers her hair with a Starbucks bag in Ueno Park in Tokyo. (Reuters/Thomas Peter)
Residents picnic under cherry blossoms in Ueno Park in Tokyo.
Residents picnic under cherry blossoms in Ueno Park in Tokyo.
A total lunar eclipse is seen between cherry blossoms in Shiraishi, Miyagi prefecture, in this photo taken by April 4, 2015. Mandatory Credit. REUTERS/Kyodo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.      - RTR4W3EF
A lunar eclipse between cherry blossoms in Shiraishi, Miyagi prefecture. (Reuters/Kyodo News)
Visitors take a picture of blooming cherry blossoms at Sakura-no-sato in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, March 29, 2015.  (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Blooming cherry blossoms at Sakura-no-sato in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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