OSAKA, Japan — Normally the start of the cherry blossom season in Osaka Castle Park in Osaka, Japan, would be greeted by crowds of tourists walking up the paths and gates to see the its cherry trees in bloom.
But the few tourists seen now are a fraction of the usual crowds, even for a Monday morning, said Yasuyuki Funabiki, a volunteer tour guide with the Osaka Systematized Good-Will Guides Club.
“Only 1 percent,” Funabiki said, comparing the usual crowds to the handful of tourists and locals milling around the summit of the park.
The castle tower, which houses a museum, shut down in late February along with other national museums and attractions as a coronavirus prevention measure.
The number of foreign visitors to Japan dropped 58.3 per cent in February compared to the same time last year, the greatest drop since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Japan had 1,193 recorded cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, not including the 712 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. There have been 43 domestic deaths relating to coronavirus.
Hanami, or flower viewing, is a tradition dating back more than 1,000 years in Japan. Cherry blossoms signify impermanence and are one of the most important motifs in Japanese art and popular culture.
“Sometimes people compare their lives to cherry blossoms,” said Atsuko Tanaka, also a volunteer guide with the Osaka SGG Club.
The blooming of the cherry blossoms and the mild spring weather in late March to early April make it the busiest stretch of the tourism season in Japan.
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But with the Japanese government asking for people to avoid large gatherings, it’s unlikely Japanese companies and groups will hold their usual outdoor parties on blankets under the cherry trees.
In normal years, Japanese companies and groups hold parties on blankets under the cherry trees. However, this year that likely won’t happen, Tanaka said. The club has canceled all its planned tours.
“Personally, I feel that was a wise decision,” Funabiki said.