Almost every spring, thousands of tourists line a walkway that winds up a path and around the base of a monstrous cherry tree in Miharu, Japan. The 1,000-year-old tree is known as the Takizakura, which means waterfall cherry tree.
But this year, there are no crowds around the ancient, flowering tree. The coronavirus pandemic has kept people in their homes, avoiding the massive gathering of people who typically flock to the area to marvel at its vast cascading blossoms.
The tree, of course, is flowering anyway.
"For me, the tree is a reminder that nature is strong. Nature can get through anything," Kazue Otomo told NPR, after visiting the tree with her family. They wore face masks as they looked at the famous tree one last time before stepping away.
This isn't the first time the tree has put on a show without an audience, NPR points out that.
Miharu is located in the Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan, where one of the world's worst nuclear disasters occurred in Fukushima in 2011. The power plant was hit by an earthquake, followed by a tsunami. For years, fear of radiation kept people from visiting the famed tree. The century-old tree has also survived wars and famines.
Its caretakers have propped up the trees branches with wooden posts to keep it healthy and safe. The Takizakura is a specific species of weeping cherry called "Pendula Rosea." It's a tree "that spreads out in all directions and makes for a breathtaking vista," according to Fukushima Travel, the official tourism site for the area.
For visitors who want to see the waterfall of cherry blooms from the safety and comfort of home, Google Earth features the famed Takizakura as part of a virtual tour of some of the most beautiful cherry trees from around the world.
It will likely be the only way most people see the tree this year. But Sidafumi Hirata, the tree's caretaker, knows the tree will survive.
"This tree has lived so long, and the longer you live, the more bad events you see. More tragedies," Hirata told NPR. "So she will see more bad things, but she'll also see good — life is layers, layers of bad and good."