Did you know that cherry blossom in Japan is a WHOLE THING? Not only does the Japanese meteorological office dedicates an entire service dedicated to forecasting the first blooms, the media plan for daily reports on the national news, and numerous festivals are held across the country every spring.
In other words, it is somewhat a national obsession.
There’s even a name for this intergenerational pastime: hanami. Literally, “flower viewing”. Family and friends gather beneath cherry trees as soon for sakura-themed bento boxes and sake as buds burst open. The tradition is closely linked with the Buddhist principle of enjoying transient beauty for however long it lasts, knowing everything is merely ephemereal.
Want to know when is the best time to visit Japan and experience cherry blossom season? Read on.
When should to plan to see cherry blossom in Japan?
Now, planning a trip to Japan for the cherry blossom season can be a tricky affair. The blossoming is entirely determined by two things.
Firstly is the weather, which as we all know is highly unpredictable (sorry, weather experts of the world). The milder the weather in the weeks leading up to spring, the earlier the cherry trees will bloom. It’s also worth considering the longitude. Japan being a somewhat vertical country, blossom will normally start in the southernmost parts of the country where it is warmest and slowly ripple its way up north. For example, Kyoto and Osaka will be in season well before Sapporo is.
Secondly is the tree variety. Different types of sakura will bloom at a slightly different time and last for different lengths of time.
All in all, cherry blossom duration is relatively short at just two weeks, give or take, between the opening of the first blossoms, full bloom and the moment were blooms fall off the trees. Strong wind and rain can cut the blooming season even shorter.
In essence, cherry blossom season starts in late March in the south and lasts until mid-May up north.
Here are a few average full bloom dates according to Japan Weather Association for key cities around Japan:
- Kumamoto: late March
- Kanazawa: early April
- Tokyo: early April
- Kyoto: early April
- Sapporo: early May
Tokyo cherry blossom
There are plent of amazing places to enjoy hanami in Tokyo. Personally, my favourite was Chyoda which encompasses the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, Kitanomaru Park as well as Chidorigafuchi. All three locations are extremely scenic and offer fun boat rides (either a row boat or a pedal boat) around the moat leading to an Edo-era castle.
I particularly enjoyed the many tunnel of blossoms all around this massive park.
Other great areas for sakura in Tokyo include:
- Shinjuku Gyoen Park
- Ueno Park (its central path alone is flanked by over 800 trees!)
- Sumida Park
- Kichijoji Pond (with its iconic swan-shaped boats)
- Meguro River near Ikejiri-Ohashi (which is lit up at night, a practice called yozakura)
- Asukayama Park
- Yanaka Cemetery
- Hamarikyu Gardens
- Kitazawagawa Ryokudo Green Road
- Mohri Garden in Roppongi Hills (also for yozakura)
Cherry blossom in Japan
Kyoto cherry blossom
Kyoto is another great city to enjoy hanami. My favourite was the serene, tranquil Philosopher’s Path. The riverside walk between Ginkaku-Ji and Nanzenji temples is lined with almost a thousand cherry trees and makes for a contemplative stroll in one of Kyoto’s most beautiful parts.
Plus, it’s also illuminated at night if you end up preferring yozakura over hanami!
There are other great options for enjoying cherry blossoms in Kyoto:
- Yodogawa Riverside Park
- Ninnaji Temple
- Heian Shrine
- Togetsu-kyo Bridge in Arashiyama
- Maruyama Park
- Daigoji Temple
- Yawaragi Road
Travel tips for getting the best out of cherry blossom in Japan
Cherry blossom viewing being nothing short of a national obsession, crowds are expected. Not only Japanese, but other tourists as well, especially from Korea and China. Cherry blossom season is the peak of tourist season for Japan.
Get a rail pass
A Japan Rail Pass is a very good idea if you intend on criss-crossing the country in search of the best hanami spots.
Book your accommodations in advance
Airfare and accommodation should be booked well in advance in order to avoid either disappointment or a rates you can’t afford. For example: when I got to Kyoto’s Tourist Office on March 25th, there was a huge “No vacancies in Kyoto” sign in the window; not a single hotel room available in all of Kyoto for the next seven nights. In nearby Osaka, rooms were all over $400 per night. Book as far in advance as you possibly can.
Most hotels in Japan have easy cancellation policies and few require deposits. I suggest you make reservations as soon as possible and change them later on if you have to; best to be safe than sorry (or homeless, in this case).