How to Experience Cherry Blossoms in Japan

Estimated reading time 7 min

Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is a national pastime in Japan. There are sakura (blossom) forecasts, sakura blogs, sakura news reports. Convenience stores stock their shelves with pink rice balls and rice cakes, red bean treats, and hanami bento—pre-packed lunch boxes filled with blossom-themed goodies. Restaurants offer pink champagne. Park lawns become patchwork quilts of picnic blankets from dawn until well after the sun goes down. With around 600 varieties of cherry trees spread across the country, there’s never a dull moment once they start blooming.

Importance

Over the centuries, cherry blossoms have become a national symbol of Japan. They embody the Shinto ideals of hope and renewal, symbolizing the ephemeral nature of beauty and the impermanence of life. For hundreds of years, these delicate pink and white blossoms have been a major focus of art, poetry, and literature across the country.

History

Cherry trees began to work their way into the Japanese national identity as early as the 1st century. The trees grew in more remote mountain areas and were thought to carry the souls of mountain gods down to the people. As a result, many Japanese would make the trek from the cities during blooming season to worship. Over time, people began transplanting the trees to more populated areas.

During the Heian Period (from 710 to 794 AD), hanami became a custom among the educated aristocracy. By the 12th century, the blossoms were seen to symbolize the nobility of the soul, particularly with regard to the courage of the samurai (and, centuries later, the sacrifices of the Japanese soldiers). In 1912, Japan gifted 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a token of friendship and political alliance. Following the country’s devastating tsunami in 2011, the blossoms stood as a hopeful reminder of rebirth and renewal.

2020 Blooming Forecasts

As are many of the best things in life, cherry blossoms take their cues from Mother Nature. As the spring warmth spreads northward, the blossoms follow suit. This means that, depending on the location of the city, blooming season could begin anywhere from late January through early May. Here are the projected bloom dates for some of the most visited cities in Japan. Keep in mind that these forecasts are only estimates.

Tokyo

Blooms appear: March 21
Full bloom: March 27

Hiroshima

Blooms appear: March 22
Full bloom: April 3

Kyoto

Blooms appear: March 27
Full bloom: April 5

Osaka

Blooms appear: March 27
Full bloom: April 4

Nara

Blooms appear: March 29
Full bloom: April 5

Sapporo

Blooms appear: May 2
Full bloom: May 6

Top Viewing Locations

Tokyo

Nakameguro

Best time to view: March 23–April 9

During the popular Nakameguro Sakura Festival, visitors can enjoy the sight of more than 800 cherry trees bursting with color along the district’s peaceful canal. At night, the blossoms are illuminated and vendors sell pink champagne and other spring-themed treats in the glow of the paper lanterns.

Ueno Park

Best time to view: March 19–April 5

With more than 800 cherry trees gracing its grounds, Ueno Park is a veritable sea of pink during sakura season. And it’s not just a party during the day—stick around past dark to see the blossoms lit up in a glowing pink extravaganza.

Inokashira Park

Best time to view: March 25–April 4

Opened in 1917 as Japan’s first suburban park, Inokashira Park provides an incredible hanami ambience. Hundreds of trees surrounding Inokashira Pond extend their limbs out over the water, where the petals drop and collect in swirling patterns of pink. We suggest renting a swan-shaped boat and going for a paddle. Many of the trees are late blooming and you can see them through mid-April.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Best time to view: March 22–April 7

144 acres, 1,300 varieties of cherry trees, 10 minutes by foot from Shinjuku Station. If you’re looking for the perfect peaceful retreat within touching distance of Tokyo’s city bustle, you’ve come to the right place.

Yoyogi Park

Best time to view: early April

Home to the main Olympic Village in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, this vast green space turns into a vast pink space every late March and early April. More than 600 cherry trees grace the park with their pastel petals, and visitors can spend hours reclining on the lawns or admiring the blossoms reflected in the park’s glassy ponds.

Kyoto

Maruyama Park

Best time to view: April 23–May 6

Maruyama Park is the oldest of its kind in Kyoto. Of its 650 cherry trees, the park’s crowning jewel is its magnificent Weeping Cherry of Gion. It’s a spectacular sight anytime you visit, but especially so if you happen to go at night when it’s illuminated from below.

 

Philosopher’s Path

Best time to view: early April

This serene stone path takes its name from Nishida Kataro, a famous philosopher who used to meditate along this route on his way to work at Kyoto University. The path stretches over a mile along a cherry tree-lined canal in the Higashiyama district.

 

 

Additional Locations

Mount Yoshino, Nara Prefecture

Best time to view: April 5–14

Located in the UNESCO-listed Yoshino-Kumano National Park, Mt. Yoshino offers arguably the most dramatic cherry blossom views in all of Japan. The park is home to around 30,000 cherry trees, the oldest of which date back nearly 1,300 years.

Hirosaki Park, Hirosaki

Best time to view: April 23–May 5

Cherry blossom enthusiasts won’t want to miss the spectacle at Hirosaki Park come spring. Over 2,600 trees unfurl their delicate pink blossoms in unison, and visitors can rent boats or lay out picnic blankets get the full blossom experience.

Himeji Castle, Hyogo

Best time to view: March 26–April 5

One of the 12 original castles of Japan, this UNESCO-listed icon serves as an elegant focal point amidst a sea of pink and white blossoms. One of the best ways to experience the full effect of the blooming trees is to take a scenic boat trip around the moat.

Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture

Best time to view: April 23–May 6

More than 150 enormous weeping cherry trees line the paths and courtyards of Kakunodate, a former samurai district in Senboku. The original trees were planted in the 17th century, and their resilience has come to represent the strength and unwavering spirit of the samurai.

Hanami Etiquette

  1. Don’t climb the trees, pick the blossoms, lean against the tree trunks, or shake the branches.
  2. Some parks and other public spaces don’t allow picnics because the blankets damage the grass, so be aware of the rules of your particular destination.
  3. Be considerate with how much space you’re taking up. Bring a small blanket for your picnic and don’t spread out beyond what you need.
  4. Don’t place your picnic blanket near any tree roots, as your presence there may damage them.
  5. Leave chairs, tables, or tents at home, as these obstruct the view for other people. If you don’t want to sit directly on the ground, you can bring cushions for extra comfort.
  6. Clean up after yourself. If there are no trash cans nearby, or if they’re full, take your garbage home with you.
  7. Remove your shoes before getting settled on your picnic blanket.
  8. Get to the park early to claim your place. It can get crowded, especially during weekends especially. It’s not uncommon for people to show up as early as 5am to lay down their picnic blankets.
  9. Be aware of how much noise you’re making.

Ready to go? Consider one of these fantastic go-today packages or design your own!
Tokyo & Kyoto
Tokyo & Osaka
Tokyo Escape

Related Posts