As the nature’s original Instagram bait starts blanketing your timeline, your dream to experience the full bloom delight of Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Japan gets bigger with every update. Here is a complete travel guide on where and when to see Cherry Blossoms in Japan from South to North.
Japan is synonymous to Shinkansen, Sushi, Samurai and Skyscrapers but the most iconic image of Japan is the sea of cherry blossom trees. Like most travelers I too was smitten by the pink dream. So after many wasted springs I finally booked a trip to Japan to see the Nature’s limited period only Art show.
I didn’t know Japan’s reverence for Cherry Blossom spans centuries until I spoke to my host, Takashi. From as early as the eighth century, elite imperialists would pause to appreciate the Sakura (cherry blossoms) before indulging in Hanami (Cherry blossom viewing picnics) and relishing the poetry sessions beneath the blooms. Fast-forward to the modern-day and the flowers are still revered.
Hanami in Tokyo
At the onset of spring when the trees turn pink, the old and the young grab their picnic blankets and rush to the parks to take photos, drink sake (Japanese liquor), nosh munchies, gulp their Sakura themed bento lunches and relax under the paper-thin pink cherry blooms. It’s like a carnival with food stalls, live music and games. Sakura is the best time to try out Japanese food like sakura mochi (sticky rice cake), white and pink miso (soybean sauce) pink onigiri (rice balls), red bean treats, tamagoyaki (a rolled egg omelet with sugar and soy sauce), taoyaki (octopus balls), grilled clams and taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes filled with custard and chocolate). I discovered all this and a lot more during my first Hanami experience in Tokyo.
On my first day in Tokyo, my local friend warned me that if I want to see Sakura then I should wake up early and like an obedient child I obeyed. But I was not alone to arrive early. I had to make way through the epic sized elbow-to-elbow crowds to admire the 1,000-plus blooming cherry blossom trees of the Ueno Park, one of Japan’s oldest and most famous public spaces in Tokyo (also home to many top museums, shrines and ponds).
Sometimes I walked along the pathways sometimes I stood under the branches laden with soft white, pink, and magenta blooms. The wind would blow and I would get showered in the Sakura-snow. The fluffy, gorgeous blossoms were everywhere - on trees, in air, on pathways, on benches and on ground. It felt surreal, like I was in a pink wonderland with the occasional Japanese shrine or statue peaking through the pink and white clouds of flowers.
It wasn’t just the parks, shrines or castles celebrating Sakura. Retailers too were in Sakura mode – markets draped in plastic cherry blossoms, cafes and restaurants served Sakura inspired foods and drinks, 7x11s were filled with Sakura innovations, beauty counters were lined with cherry blossom scented lotions, Sakura front (television updates) announced the dates of Sakura travel from south to north.
While I was absorbing all this, Takashi, my local friend, asked me if I knew why Hanami is such a big deal in Japan. Obviously I didn’t have a clue. And that’s when he revealed the deep connection Japanese have with the short-and-sweet season,
The ephemeral nature of Sakura blossoms lasting only for two weeks is symbolic of the Japanese spirit. In the days of the samurai, Sakura represented the short life of a warrior often cut off in its prime. In today's Japan, Sakura serves as a reminder of the power of nature, the fragility and the beauty of life. It's a reminder that life is overwhelmingly beautiful but precariously short too. Therefore you should make the most out of it as it lasts.
In a nutshell, the cherry blossoms are not just pretty pink flowers: they are the floral embodiment of Japan’s most deep-rooted cultural and philosophical beliefs.
After understanding the true essence of Hanami and enjoying it during the day, it was time to enjoy the Night Hanami. If you thought cherry blossoms during the day is a gorgeous sight, night blossoms are outright spectacular thanks to intricate lightening and festive lanterns that brings out the exoticness of the blossoms in the darkness of night. It was not a dream but a reality better than dream. A feeling which many poets, painters, filmmakers, writers have tried to replicate for centuries but failed.
Night Hanami in Tokyo, JapanAs the days passed the fragile cheery blossoms in Tokyo started to bid adieu. But I wasn’t ready for the goodbye yet. I wanted to see more. So I decided to follow them up North to the volcanic Aomori Prefecture and Hokkaido.
Hanami in Tohoku
The best way to travel in Japan is by a bullet train that passes through the scenic landscapes, where it is possible to lose the sight of all the tourists. The four hours of train journey from Tokyo to Hirosaki by Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) and a local train didn’t seem long. I was really enjoying the Sakura view from my window.
But I was in for a bigger surprise at Hirosaki, where 400-year-old Hirosaki Castle was surrounded by approximately 2,600 of Japan’s most perfect-looking cherry trees, including more than 300 trees over 100 years old. Clear blue sky with cottony white clouds and majestic mountains was the perfect backdrop for the dazzlingly blooming cherry blossoms. I had never seen anything more alluring than what I was seeing. Hypnotised by the view, I whispered to the Japanese couple standing next to me, “How come the cherry blossom trees here are so picture perfect?”
Hirosaki Castle area is famous for its apple orchards,” explained the couple. “So after the locals perfected a pruning technique for their apple trees, they carried it on to the cherries—it makes the trees in this area bloom spectacularly. The cherries here have twice as many petals as anywhere else, thanks to the special cultivation method.
So here is my tip. If you have to pick one place for cherry blossom viewing, pick Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture, one of the best spots for cherry blossoms in Japan.
Hanami in Hokkaido
If you had missed seeing the cherry blossoms in south or centre then Hokkaido is your best bet. Though I had relished my share of Sakura but I still wanted to chase them up north. So I continued my onward journey to Hakodate and Sapporo in Hokkaido.
The best place to view cherry blossoms in Hakodate is the Hakodate Tower, where hundreds of cherry blossom trees have been planted on the star-shaped Goryokaku Park where a castle once stood. I didn’t have time to visit the nearby Matsumae castle down, which I was told isn’t as impressive as Hirosaki but is less crowded.
My last stop was Hokkaido’s main city of Sapporo, which was awash with cherry blossoms (Maruyama Park and Hokkaido-jingu shrine in particular). The interesting thing about Sapporo is you can enjoy Sakura views while skiing since the official skiing season lasts until May.
Traveling to Japan in its peak season was a bit expensive but the most beautiful experience I ever had. The cherry blossom season is ephemeral and fleeting, so mark your calendars and book your flights now before its too late!
Where & When to Hanami
The cherry blossom travels like a wave from South to North, blooming as early as February in Okinawa, peaking in Tokyo and Kyoto in early April and reaching Hokkaido by early May.
In the 2nd week of February at Yogi Park & Nakijin Castle
From April 2 to 10 at Fukuoka Castle & Atago Shrine
From April 4 to 12 at Osaka Castle Park & Kema Sakuranomiya Park
From April 3 to 11 at Nara Park & Heijo Palace
From April 4 to 12 at Shukkein Garden and Hiroshima Castle
From April 4 to 12 at Philosopher’s Path & Heian Shrine
From April 2 to 11 at Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National & Yoyogi Park
From April 10 to 18 at Hanamiyama Park & Shinobuyama Park
From April 26 to May 4 at Hirosaki Castle & Ashino Chishogun Prefectural Natural Park
From May 5 at Hakodate’s Goryokaku, Matsumae Castle & Odori Park
What to carry
Dress in warm clothes (spring can be chilly in Japan) and comfortable shoes. Bring along a blanket to sit on in the park and pick up a delicious Hanami Bento Box and drinks from a convenience store. Reach early and find a spot under a cherry blossom tree. And voila you are ready to enjoy Hanami!
Sakura – Cherry blossom
Kirei – Beautiful
Sakura, kirei desu ne – Isn’t the cherry blossom beautiful?
Kanpai – Cheers!
Itadekimasu – Lets eat
Arigato gozaimasu – Thank you
Have you been to Japan on the Spring season. How was your experience?