Project description

Japan\’s cherry blossoms aren\’t just beautiful. They\’re a boon to the economy. An estimated 63 million people travel to and within Japan to view the bloom, which spreads across the country from the end of March to the beginning of May.

The project shows where and when you can view the 2019 bloom, and how fickle the timing can be year to year. Smooth transitions between maps reveal 600 prime viewing locations across the country. Last year, most visitors ventured away from Japan\’s megacities to view the blossoms. The data and design embrace the organic nature of this annual phenomenon: Flowers animate across a map to indicate the peak 2018 bloom date and are sized to the number of visitors at that location in 2018. Blossoms cascade down the page, bouncing playfully at the bottom of the browser window before eventually slipping away, as readers navigate the story.

Photo and video help bring the scene to life—both the flower-obsessed crowds and the elaborate ways they can view the bloom. Readers can get a taste for what the bloom looks like across the country by exploring a map of photos—one from each prefecture.

What makes this project innovative?

Every year publications put out stories on Japan’s cherry blossoms, but this is the first to delve deeper than the superficial and take an analytical approach to quantify the season’s impact. Through translation of Japanese data and interviews with experts, we were able to show the scale of tourism during sakura season and the economic impact that it has on the country. Furthermore, we sought to maintain the organic nature of the subject despite the inorganic medium of the internet. We displayed data as flowers themselves, and hand-drawn flowers fell down the the page to create the sensation of standing under a cherry tree. Photos and videos put readers right there in the crowds of Tokyo. We also wanted to honor the fact that this is a national celebration—not confined to the megacities—by highlighting beautiful sakura images from every prefecture.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

This project published just before the deadline to submit, but has garnered a positive response from readers and on social media so far.

Source and methodology

We were given access to Shoubunsha Publications’ proprietary data on 604 cherry blossom viewing locations, of which 373 included visitor count data for the 2018 bloom. This data was manually translated from Japanese to English, and standardized so that flowers could animate on when that location would be in bloom. The flowers were scaled based on those estimates of the number of visitors during the entire bloom period. We also utilized publicly available data from Japan Meteorological Corporation to illustrate the 2018 and 2019 sakura fronts—similar to a weather map that shows when an area will be in bloom; as well as data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to show the sharp increase in tourism, international flights and cruise stops in Japan.

Technologies Used

Flowers were rendered falling down the page and landing at the bottom with a slight bounce. These were rendered using the Matter.js JavaScript physics engine. Each flower consisted of six individual parts which were connected together to form the flower’s structure. Building each flower out of loosely-connected parts allows each petal to move and rotate independently of others. The output of the physics engine was then rendered as an SVG layer using React. The position and rotation of each body in the physics engine was used to place SVG images, forming the image of each flower. Map states were animated and transitioned between using D3.js. Sections of the Sakura front maps were animated in order of their fronts. Our fourth map used flowers to indicate the number of viewers visiting each tourist spot. These flowers were scaled by the number of visitors, and the animated transition showing these flowers used the peak bloom dates from each prefecture to order the transition of each flower. This gave the effect of the flower markers “blooming” across Japan in an order consistent with their actual bloom dates. Near the end of the article is a photo grid of Sakura blossoms in each prefecture, following the shape of Japan. Tapping on a square expands the photo. This was rendered using React. To reduce page load, thumbnails were used, and larger images were not rendered until they were chosen by a user.

Project members

Chloe Whiteaker Marika Katanuma
 Paul Murray

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