Spring comes to Tokyo with first cherry blossoms

Tokyo (AFP) - Spring officially arrived in Tokyo on Saturday as Japan's weather agency declared the start of the cherry blossom season, prompting viewers to party under the trees with cherry-related items flooding the capital.

Forecasters watching trees at Yasukuni Shrine said the city's first blossoms had appeared, marking the beginning of two weeks in which Tokyo's parks, temple grounds, schools and streets will explode in pinks and whites.

The meteorological agency said this year's first blossoms appeared nine days earlier than average.

"Warm temperatures in late February and early March hastened the growth of buds," an agency official told reporters to the cheers of visitors at the shrine in central Tokyo.

The story hit the headlines with Jiji Press reporting it as breaking news, while weather forecast companies compete to give the most accurate prediction on major cities' first blossoms.

Trees in Tokyo will be in full bloom in about a week's time, turning parks into huge picnic areas where friends, family and colleagues gather for sometimes raucous, alcohol-fuelled celebrations that can last for hours.

Restaurants scrambled to offer special delicacies inspired by cherry blossoms, while beverage firms have launched seasonal soft drinks and beer whose packages feature the blossom.

Cafeterias and bars are serving cherry-flavoured sweets and cocktails.

Trees in several western cities are already in bloom, while the north will see flowers as late as May.