I was sorting my photos from my recent trip to Japan and something struck me – cherry blossom season in Japan is EVERYTHING. The trees are omnipresent in over half of my photos, and there’s no denying that it gives the country a slightly romantic appeal, an ephemeral look that is quite difficult to resist. The photos I shared on my Facebook page during the trip were some of my most liked photos ever!
I normally avoid posting time-sensitive articles months and months in advance, preferring pertinent timing over viral opportunity. However, in this case, I feel it is wiser to overlook this rule, for two reasons: 1, the photos are too gorgeous not to be shared immediately, and 2, airfare to Japan can be astonishingly expensive and is best booked sooner rather than later.
When Should You Go?
Now, planning a trip to Japan for the cherry blossom season can be a tricky affair. The blossoming is entirely determined by two things: the first one being 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. The second reason is 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.
Blooming season is relatively shot – lasting roughly 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.
As a general rule, cherry blossom season starts in late March in the south and lasts until mid-May in the north. This notion of geographical location needs to be examined very closely when trying to work out an itinerary for your trip – foregoing this crucial step may end up in sore disappointment once on location.
Here are a few average full bloom dates according to Japan Weather Association for key cities around Japan:
- Kanazawa: April 11
- Tokyo: April 5
- Kyoto: April 7
- Osaka: April 6
- Sapporo: May 8
- Naha: February 4
Cherry Blossom Season – Tokyo
Cherry Blossom Season – Kyoto
Cherry Blossom Season – Himeji Castle
Cherry Blossom Season in Japan: Know Before You Go
- A Japan Rail Pass is a very good idea if you intend on criss-crossing the country in search of the best hanami spots.
- What is hanami, you ask? It’s the Japanese word for the activity of “cherry blossom viewing”. The fact that they have a word for it is a good indication of just how important the season is for the Japanese.
- Consequently, crowds are to be 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.
- A reminder of why I chose to publish this now: 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).
Have you been to Japan during cherry blossom season? What was your favorite hanami spot?
[disclaim]Disclaimer: I toured Japan with a complimentary Japan Rail Pass. All opinions are my own. [/disclaim]