Hanami on your mind? Here’s a complete travel guide on where and when to see Cherry Blossoms in Japan

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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

People enjoying Hanami (Cherry Blossoms) in Spring, Japan

People enjoying Hanami (Cherry Blossoms) in Spring, Japan. Pic cc: wovoyage

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.

Chefs preparing Cherry Blossoms inspired foods, Japan

Chefs preparing Cherry Blossoms inspired foods, Japan. Pic cc: Denise Goco

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.

Sakura Snow on the Japanese Roads

Sakura Snow on the Japanese Roads. Pic cc: wovoyage

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.

Hirosaki Castle in Aomori Prefecture, Tohoku is one of the best places to see cherry Blossoms in Japan. Pic courtesy: yisiris

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.

Goryokaku Park blooming with Cherry Blossoms in Spring

Goryokaku Park blooming with Cherry Blossoms in Spring. Pic cc: Yuki Shimazu

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!

Related: What’s Famous in Hokkaido & Japan Rail Passes – A 6-Day South Hokkaido Itinerary

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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.

  1. Okinawa

    In the 2nd week of February at Yogi Park & Nakijin Castle

  2. Fukuoka

    From April 2 to 10 at Fukuoka Castle & Atago Shrine

  3. Osaka 

    From April 4 to 12 at Osaka Castle Park & Kema Sakuranomiya Park

  4. Nara

    From April 3 to 11 at Nara Park & Heijo Palace

  5. Hiroshima

    From April 4 to 12 at Shukkein Garden and Hiroshima Castle

  6. Kyoto

    From April 4 to 12 at Philosopher’s Path & Heian Shrine

  7. Tokyo

    From April 2 to 11 at Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National & Yoyogi Park

  8. Fukushima

    From April 10 to 18 at Hanamiyama Park & Shinobuyama Park

  9. Aomori

    From April 26 to May 4 at Hirosaki Castle & Ashino Chishogun Prefectural Natural Park

  10. Hokkaido 

    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!

Useful Phrases

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?

PS: This story was published in the April 2017 issue of Jetwings.

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49 Comments

  • Profilesign says:

    Amazing blog to read from.

  • Aniruddha says:

    Wao.. images are the best. And the way you choose the topic for the article is also admirable.

  • Those cherry blossoms are true icons of Japan. I haven’t had the opportunity to see these cherry blossoms for myself. Hopefully, I can go back to Japan and witness them myself. Those dates and guide are so handy!

  • Bagrat says:

    My Japanese co-workers keep telling me they miss being home this time of the year. I told them to take me along when they do get to go! 🙂

  • Wow, I knew about cherry blossoms, but I simply had no idea that they were such a big deal for the locals. I love the quote about life representing the fragile life of samurais.
    I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, but your post makes me want to visit even more. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks a lot for stopping by and commenting. Japanese are very spiritual and nature loving people. They associate even the most mundane things with profound philosophies of life.

  • Suzanne says:

    Great introduction to cherry blossom viewing in Japan. For newbie travelers, you don’t have to go to the big cities and fight with crowds to see hanami. I’ve found equally beautiful cherry blossoms in regular, small town/village parks in Japan. They’re that ubiquitous.

  • Sonja says:

    This is so beautiful!!! I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and see the blossoms. I love seeing them wherever I’m living, which at the moment is Edinburgh, but they’re not the same!

    • Thanks a lot for stopping by to read and comment. I love Cherry blossom and had seen them before elsewhere too but they are altogether a different deal in Japan. You really have to see it to believe it.

  • Tracy says:

    I think I would have to travel through Japan -on the bullet train of course- to see all the blossom! It’s so stunningly beautiful and the Hirosaki castle blossoms seem so amazing- and definitely a must see. Will be saving this post as I am sure at some point I will make the trip to see the blossoms!

    • Thanks a lot Tracy. Japan was my no.1 destination to visit for many years and finally it happened. I can’t tell you how happy I was to visit it. It is now my favourite country in the world.

  • Riely says:

    I love that Sakura holds a special connection to the Japanese spirit and serves as a reminder of the fragility and beauty of life. I wasn’t aware of the symbolic representation of Sakura. It would be wonderful to see the blossoms in their glory at the Hirosaki castle. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos and stories of the blossoms.

    • Hi Riely,

      I am so thankful to you for sharing your generous comment on the post. I really had fun exploring Japan. It was really a beautiful experience, which I would love to experience again.

  • I would love to eat all the Japanese food that you have mentioned. I like the deeper meaning behind Sakura blossoms. Life is short. We must be grateful every day and cherish what we have.

    • ha ha. Food is really yum in Japan. Even though I am a vegetarian still I didn’t face any problem. Japanese really go out of their way to make you feel comfortable.

  • Melbtravel says:

    Goryokaku Park looks so beautiful and those flowers are just pretty. I have not been to Japan but I have always wanted too. I would love to go when the cherry blossom are out in Spring, it must have been amazing wandering through them. Beautiful pictures by the way

  • CJ Haughey says:

    I know the pain of those “epic elbow-to-elbow crowds” from Korea. Admittedly, the cherry blossoms were not as impressive here as in some of your beautiful photos. Very informative post and super cool that you had it published in Jetwings.

    • Thanks a lot. Lot of my friends used to go to Korea for cherry blossoms. Looks pretty there but in Japan they are in a different league, simple coz of the strong Japanese culture and spirituality attached to them.

  • Love this article. My daughter really wants to see this in person but I am so used to DC cherry blossoms I was afraid to schedule a trip. After all, the peak is variable and short. With multiple sites and climates around Japan it seems like one should be hitting if you go anywhere in the right time. Great to know.

    • Thanks a lot Jenn & Ed. I would say Japan is pretty in every season. And frankly I try to avoid the peak season as it gets too crowded. I prefer smaller places more.

  • This is such a helpful guide to cherry blossom watching while in Japan. Thanks for the elaborately written guide on flower watching and Hanami, bookmarking this post for future reference. Would love to visit Japan during the spring just to witness this beautiful sight.

  • The blossoms along the roads are just spectacular! How amazing it would be to take part in such a local custom. Timing the cherry blossoms is definitely on my Japan to-do list. We so want to make it to Japan next year for the cherry blossoms!

  • Oh! I feel so good reading your post. The pictures are just way too amazing specially the one with Sakura snow on the street. I can’t believe that Japan has such beautiful springs as I never heard of it before. Thanks for introducing me to such an amazing place.

  • Only By Land says:

    Wow, such an in depth review of where to see the famous cherry blossoms. I must say that Hakodate Tower and the park below seems to be perfect. Not only do you get to see the blossoms from above but the park looked so huge that surely it’s not full of tourists!

  • Swati says:

    Mesmerizing pictures and a great article. Will look this up when I plan my visit. I would like to believe that this is also a reminder not to take life too seriously .

  • Wow, wow, wow! I’m moving to Japan in january and the cherry blossom is DEFINITELY on mum tomto list. Thank you for the useful phrases too – I’ll definitely need them.

  • Wow, wow, wow! I’m moving to Japan in january and the cherry blossom is DEFINITELY on my to do list. Thank you for the useful phrases too – I’ll definitely need them.

  • This post was the sight for sore eyes, just what I needed on a Sunday afternoon. I would certainly like to try some of that Cherry Blossoms inspired food 🙂

    #JapanChalo

  • Claire says:

    I think seeing cherry blossoms is one of the reasons I really want to visit Japan so it’s good to have a list of the best places to see them. Thanks so much for putting this together. Quite interested to try some of that cherry blossom inspired food too

  • Great article and absolutely stunning photography!. I’ve obviously seen photos on Instagram before, but had no idea they had such deep meaning to the Japanese people. The festival in Tokyo sounds great but I think I loved the castle surrounded by the trees the best. A great guide for people wanting to visit. Thanks for sharing,

  • Christie says:

    This is wonderful!!! I’ve never seen aerial shots of the cherry blossoms before – that is amazing. I’ve GOT to get here someday!! Hirosaki Castle Park looks to die for with the trees!

  • Tony (tonyandkimoutdooradventures) says:

    Japan is on my list to explore. I’m tossing up on Spring or Autumn. I love the colors in noth seasons. Thanks for the share. Alot of things to consider.

  • Cherry blossoms are on our bucket list since such a long time! Your post is really detailed and useful. Thanks for sharing. The boat ride across Hirosaki Castle park looks so dreamy!

  • Bhushavali says:

    That’s awesome! My friend is there right now, enjoying Cherry Blossoms! I’ve seen some in the Japanese gardens in London in spring, but to see them in Japan would be one heck of an experience.

  • Katie says:

    This is a fantastic and detailed guide!! We loved Japan and visited just before cherry blossom season! Was great seeing the blossom but want to deffo head back there and see some more areas with the blossom everywhere!

  • Anita says:

    What an experience to be surrounded by so much beauty.

  • Cat says:

    After seeing your beautiful photos, I just want to fly to Japan right now! There are so many places to do hanami too!! Even better, there are yummy treats to go with it. Personally, I would love to try some local eats, especially the pink onigiri and sakura mochi!

  • We are fascinated by the awe-insipring pictures of Japanese floral gardens that keeps popping up on social media. But cherry blossoms of Japan is something which will always be high on list. We would love to experience the night blossoms brightened with the festive lanterns.

  • Reshma says:

    Didn’t know that there lies a whole philosophy behind these most sought after beautiful flowers. A great guide to planning ahead to witness the cherry blossoms in Japan!

  • Ah, your photos are beautiful! I was actually in Japan last month, but sadly missed the cherry blossom season. I was there towards the end of the month (I left on 30 March) but everyone I talked to said that the blossom season is a bit late this year, due to the cold weather had earlier. I saw a couple of trees here and there, which was lovely, but they weren’t in full bloom yet. I’d definitely love to go back another time when they are!

  • This is such a great post, thanks for sharing.

  • Cherry blossoms are so stunning and Japan is breath-taking. This is the most exceptional guide I have read in a while!

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