The blossoms are out, in an explosion of pink, a drab day transformed.

Japan's cherry blossoms, or "sakura" in Japanese, never cease to inspire. The gnarled trees bloom before they have leaves, their thin branches spilling over with delicate pink-white blossoms and nothing else.

For more than a week, they have brightened up a country still trying to shake off the chill of early spring. Cherry blossom viewing, or "hanami," is an annual ritual that takes many forms, from contemplative walks along rows of cherry trees to boisterous picnics in crowded public parks.

And then it's over, an ephemeral beauty filling the trees, before fluttering earthward in the breeze.