The Sakura Tunnel, made up of 400 cherry blossom trees that line Tomioka’s Yonomori district, made the area a well-known hanami (flower-viewing) spot. However, following 3.11, the fantastic cherry trees could no longer be enjoyed in the springtime. That all changed in April 2017.
In April 2017, for the first time in 7 years, visitors have been filling the streets throughout the day and during the evening too, for fantastic views of the sakura trees lit up from below.
All areas of Tomioka, excluding those labeled as ‘Difficult-to-Return Zone’, had evacuation orders lifted on April 1st 2017, meaning that former residents can now return home, and anybody can stay overnight in the town without applying for permission – something that was not possible prior to April 1st.
Over half of the Yonomori district’s beautiful sakura trees stood within Difficult-to-Return Zones, meaning that those visiting the park over in April 2017 weren't able to walk the full length of the former cherry blossom spot.
When I visited in April 2017, barricades block entrance to the Difficult-to-Return Zone, but visitors could still enjoy over 100 cherry blossom trees in the area close to the Junior High School.
Another area also lit up was on the west side of Yonomori Station - where service will be resumed on March 14 2020, for the first time since the disaster. My visit to this area coincided perfectly with the setting of the sun, meaning that I got to see the flowers in daylight, the warm glow of sunset, and basking in the bright lights of the light-up display.
The 900-year-old, 13 meters tall weeping cherry tree inside the grounds of Hosenji Temple was also lit up during my visit. The grounds of this temple have been lovingly looked after and cared for by former-residents who were evacuated to Iwaki since the disaster.
For the people of Tomioka, April 2017’s event acted as a symbol of hope of things to come. That being said, the abandoned buildings on either side of the road and the barricades cutting through the centre of the cherry blossom tunnel remained a stark reminder that everything is not exactly as it was.
However, as the sky darkened, the barricades and empty houses slid into shadows, and the blossoms slowly began to glitter with light. Standing in the centre of the long road, looking straight at the rows of trees, it was possible for me to imagine how this area would have looked in 2010.
Although the light shows of years gone by were held with tourists and visitors from near and far in mind, 2017’s light show was for the people of Tomioka – for those who have returned with cautious hopes, and for those who have not.
It is a reminder of the excitement and beauty of the town that these people loved, and still love. A symbol of the blossoming of splendor from the tiniest spaces. The joy of nature and the cycle of spring after winter, of warmth after cold.