TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Tokyo's cherry trees officially bloomed on Monday, but the usual joy that prompts parties and merrymaking was absent as Japan struggles with the aftermath of a mammoth quake and tsunami as well as the crisis at a stricken nuclear plant.
The fragile pink blooms, said to evoke the brevity of life, arrived six days later than usual and nearly three weeks after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which left more than 27,000 people dead or missing and devastated Japan's northeast.
In normal years, the announcement sets off a frenzy of celebrations beneath the blossoms, with the often reserved Japanese eating, drinking and sometimes singing in raucous groups.
Amid a general mood of moderation, with sports and fashion events canceled and even Disneyland shuttered due to rolling power cuts, some Tokyo residents thought of cancelling their planned cherry blossom events, fearing they would seem insensitive toward survivors struggling to rebuild their lives up north.
But at the last minute, some -- like 45-year-old Chieko Komuro -- decided to go ahead and celebrate what happiness they could get for now, coming with her children to be photographed beneath the blossoms.
"We had been planning this for the past three months and hesitated initially to follow through, but I wanted to capture my daughter's smile and to make great memories," she said.
Others found solace in the arrival of spring and having something to look forward to.
"There is no point in being depressed all the time, so I think we should all just take a walk outside as it cheers you up," said 68-year-old Mitsue Yamazaki, who was strolling in the park near the Imperial palace where some early trees were already in bloom.
Tokyo's cherries are declared in bloom by the Meterological Agency when official "benchmark" trees flower, even if other trees have already burst into full bloom. Tokyo's benchmark trees are on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine.
Ryuichi Oda, a photographer taking pictures of Komuro and her children, said he felt the flower represented Japan.
"I think the Japanese see the cherry blossoms as symbolizing the need to get back to basics in life," he added.
Reporting by Royston Chan; Editing by Elaine Lies