Cherry blossoms on full display at Istanbul’s Japanese garden.
さまざまの事おもひ出す櫻かなHow many, many things / They call to mind / These cherry blossoms!
In a few skillfully crafted words, this haiku by Edo-era poet Masuto Basho embodies what spring in Japan is famous for: sakura, or cherry blossoms, in full bloom. Fortunately, you do not have to travel to the Far East to delight in the trees’ pink mist. Instead, you can stay closer to home and visit Istanbul’s Baltalimanı neighborhood from late April to mid-May when the blossoms are on display at the Baltalimanı Japanese Garden. Prepare to be beguiled by nature’s cherry blossom display in a small, discreet walled park tucked away on the shores of the Bosphorus.
The park was built in 2003—the year of Turkey in Japan thanks to the efforts of Istanbul’s sister city Shimonoseki—and serves as a tranquil hideaway, a perfect escape from the bustle of Turkey’s megacity. Surprisingly, the garden is relatively unknown, although not very difficult to find. Seek out the traditional roofed wooden gates designed to replicate the ones at Shimonoseki’s Chofu Garden, which was once the residence of samurai Nishi Yukinaga.
Istanbul’s park is a small-scale replica of those found in Japan where visitors can experience a true Japanese ambiance and many of the features that make Oriental gardens unique. For example, there is a Kasuga Toro, a traditional lantern carved from stone, as well as other stone ornaments dotted around the garden.
As with many Japanese gardens, water is an essential component. The garden contains a lake surrounded by flowers and shrubs, such as red and pink camellias, to add tranquility. There are also many trees imported from Japan that bloom at different times of the year.
When the sakura is in bloom and the branches are adorned with the delicate pink flowers, take a stroll through the garden in the warm spring sun and rejoice in nature. The blossoms and warm weather brings couples, families, and groups of friends together to walk, talk, laugh, have picnics, and share in the brief but sublime season.
Be sure to visit again in a few months, as during the fall the maple trees, with their russet, crimson, gold, and bronze leaves, create a remarkable scene for visitors and the lucky residents overlooking the garden.