The coming of spring is being closely monitored by scores of volunteers in Japan, anxiously awaiting the first signs of cherry blossom season.

Cherry blossom season not only indicates the coming of spring, but is an important indicator for Japan's tourism industry as it helps cities plan annual cherry blossom festivals, travel agencies to schedule tours, and ordinary people to set dates for often raucous parties under the trees.

This year, Japan's national obsession with the timing of the flowering of the pale pink blooms, called "sakura" in Japanese, will depend on private weather companies and their volunteer recruits, after the Meteorological Agency decided to end its official forecasts that began in 1955.

At least 15,000 people have been submitting pictures of how buds on the cherry trees are doing via mobile phones.

The photos are then analaysed by the weather specialists and predictions about the start of the cherry blossom season are broadcast on a special daily television programme.

Al Jazeera's Divya Gopalan reports.

Source: Al Jazeera