I lived in Japan for two years. During my time there, I saw so many stunning sights throughout the country. The autumn leaves in Kyoto, the snow sculptures in Sapporo, the lush green mountains in Miyagi…every season in Japan is gorgeous! BUT spring was absolutely my favorite, for one reason: cherry blossoms.
Japan turns into a pink dream every spring and it’s a scene you truly have to witness at least once in your life.
Today, I share my expat’s guide on everything you need to know about cherry blossom season in Japan, from the best time to visit to the popular sakura spots. So flower chasers, hope you are excited!
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The story behind cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms, aka sakura flowers, hold a special meaning and cultural significance in Japan. Because its blooming time matches with the start of Japan’s new financial and school cycle every year, sakura has come to symbolize a new beginning. I remember the first time I saw cherry blossoms in Japan. It was down a street near my house on a day in April. The snow had finally melted and the air smelled like spring. I spotted the delicate pink flowers and could not help in that moment but smile from ear to ear like a crazy person. Winter is over! I am free! Seriously, spring is such a time of hope and joy in Japan. The entire country turns into all shades of pink. The grumpiest Grinch can’t stay mad here!
The best time to go for cherry blossoms chasing
Every spring, locals and foreigners alike flock to the parks in Japan to partake in cherry blossom viewing. It’s called “hanami” in Japanese. “hana” means flowers and “mi” means to see/to look. Woot! Mini Japanese lesson!
As it’s a very popular activity, aka the nation is completely obsessed, there are specialists who conduct cherry blossom forecasts every year. The countdown is televised and fuels the excitement. Blooming time is slightly different from year to year. The flowers bloom earlier in the south where it is warmer. In general, the first bloom starts in Okinawa around mid-January, and the cherry blossom front moves northward. By early May, sakuras would have bloomed in northern cities like Sapporo. Depending on where you want to visit in Japan, it’s best to check the forecast online and ensure that you make it when the cherry blossoms are at their best in that region.
Examples blooming time in different cities:
Okinawa: mid January to early February
Kyoto: late March to early April
Osaka: late March to early April
Tokyo: late March to early April
Aomori: late April to early May
Sapporo: early May
The most beautiful spots during cherry blossom season in Japan
There are cherry blossoms trees everywhere in Japan! You really can’t go wrong if you just come at the right time, but here are some suggestions of best spots in popular cities:
Featuring more than 1,000 trees, it’s one of the most popular hanami spots. Trees are lit up in the evenings offering a different mood than during the day.
Credit: Rising Sun
Shinjuku Gyoen Garden
Conveniently located in Shinjuku, the beautiful garden has been famous for its cherry trees since the Meiji Era.
It’s the oldest park in Kyoto and is renowned for its huge weeping cherry blossom trees. It’s best viewed at night when the trees are illuminated.
The Philosopher’s Path
This walking track from Ginkaku-ji Temple to Wakaoji-jinja Shrine is famous for its serenity. But it’s even more beautiful during cherry blossom season. You can see the river covered in delicate pink petals as you take a stroll down the bank.
Credit: The Hindu
In April, the cherry blossoms flowers are all over Arashiyama. Check out the road along the Katsura-gawa River, which is lined with fifty-year-old trees that form a tunnel of cherry blossoms. Or see the pretty weeping cherry trees in Tenryu-ji Temple.
If you are thinking about going to Nara to see deers, why not go in the spring when you can see herds of deers frolicking under pink cherry trees. Doesn’t that look and sound just magical?
Credit: Japan Australia
Located almost at the centre of Nara Prefecture, it’s said by some to be Japan’s best location for viewing cherry blossoms. They have approximately 30,000 cherry trees!
When the sakura bloom around mid April, the Japan Mint is opened for a short period of one week to the public. With 120 different varieties of cherry trees, this area along the old Yodo River is totally stunning.
Credit: Japan Photo Trip
Although its beauty is known in Japan, Miyagi is a prefecture that many foreigners overlook. I am proud to call Sendai, the capital of Miyagi, my home. There are many gorgeous spots for hanami here such as Tsuitsuigaoka Park. The cherry blossoms here are bright pink and cascade from the trees like waterfalls!
The Shiroishi River in Ogawara has 1,000 cherry blossom trees, stretching as far as 8km down the river bank. The reflection of the pink flowers on the water is breath taking!
If you make it up to northern Japan, you definitely can’t miss the famous sakura festival in Hirosaki Park. Amongst the thousands of cherry blossom trees here is the oldest Yoshino tree in all of Japan! The cherry on top (get it? “cherry”?) is the magnificent white Hirosaki Castle in the background. You can also admire the scenery from the moat by boat. The water gets covered in millions of pink sakura petals. It’s so romantic I can’t even handle it!
Credit: Japan Monthly Web Magazine
For those who has Hokkaido on the list, Nakajima Park in Sapporo is another fabulous place to chase sakura. The huge variety of cherry blossom trees bloom in succession, which means the blooms can be enjoyed for a long time. It’s also possible to get on the water and enjoy sakura boat rides in May.
How to “hanami” like a pro
For first time cherry blossom goers, eek I’m so excited for you! Here are some advice on getting the best experience:
Go on a weekday
Hanami is a very popular activity in the spring. The parks and famous sakura spots will get absolutely packed on the weekends. So if you can, try to go on a weekday when most of the locals are at work.
Pack a picnic
Bring a blanket, grabs some snacks, beverages, and have a picnic! It’s the best way to enjoy the blossoms in Japan. Eat and chit chat with your friends while pink flower petals fall down gently around you. Just picture this right now. Pure bliss. Did you know that you can drink alcohol outdoors in Japan?! I’m talking in public! I’m from Canada so this is unusual for me. Excuse my excitement if that’s normal in your country.
Eat hanami dango!
A quintessential treat for cherry blossom viewing, hanami dango can be bought in any convenient stores during spring. Made with sweet rice flour, these cute little dumplings are as pleasant to look at as they taste delicious.
Don’t be loud
I just have to say this, but don’t be that gaijin (foreigner) group that everyone in the park stares at. Foreigners are a bit notorious for getting super hyped up and getting rowdy. Always be considerate about other people who are also trying to enjoy the experience around you! 🙂
What to wear
Of course you are going to want to take 10 million photos. Who can resist such beautiful backdrops? Keep in mind that spring can still be quite chilly, so it’s best to dress in long sleeves and bring layers. Nothing a cute jacket can’t fix.
If you are the type who is willing to do it for the ‘gram though, change into a Japanese yukata for a photoshoot under the cherry blossom trees! You’d be pretty cold not going to lie, but the shots are guaranteed to be stunning.
Here is a photo I took for my cousin when she visited last year. Look how pretty!
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