When the sakura trees blossom, it’s the prettiest time of the year. Cherry blossom festivals in Japan are synonymous with the country, and it draws in throngs of visitors every year.
But there’s more to the beautiful pink flowers, and making a visit to cherry blossom festivals in Japan needs a bit more planning than you might think. From when to visit, the best spots for hanami (sakura viewing) and more, here’s all you need to know about cherry blossom festivals in Japan.
1. Know when the cherry blossoms start (and stop) blooming
The sakura season starts in southern Japan and gradually moves north. This year, it seems that spring will arrive earlier than usual. The Japan Meteorological Corporation predicts that cherry blossoms could appear as early as March 16 in Tokyo and reach peak bloom by March 25.
Hiroshima will see its pink petals about a week early, with its forecasted flowering date on March 21. Kyoto’s flowers are predicted to bloom five days earlier than usual on March 23, while Osaka can expect to see its cherry blossoms from March 25. The pink flowers will continue north and reach Sapporo last, with blooms expected to appear from May 4.
With Covid-19 still gripping the world, it’s unlikely that we will make it for this year’s cherry blossoms. Hopefully, borders will start reopening next year! For your future hanami travel plans, we suggest to book a few days later than the expected bloom date. Cherry blossoms bloom for about two weeks, and you’ll want to be there at the peak, when most of the trees are flowering.
2. Understand what cherry blossoms mean to Japanese people
Every city will have its own cherry blossom festivals, and regardless of where you are in Japan, you’ll see plenty of locals enjoying the sakura season.
But for the Japanese, this isn’t just a time to take pictures and enjoy pretty views. It’s actually a time to contemplate change and the impermanence of life. Sakura blossoms are a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life and love. It’s a bittersweet time – high school students are graduating, winter is ending, and new beginnings are on the horizon.
To put another way, sakura season is a time to reflect, walk slowly, breathe deeply, and appreciate every moment. Keep that in mind during your visit, and you’ll see why cherry blossoms are so enchanting — and why they’re such an indispensable part of Japanese culture.
3. Know where are the best places for sakura viewing
Many people flock to Tokyo for cherry blossom season, but there are many places to catch it across Japan, from Fukuoka to Sapporo. For instance, Fukuoka’s most popular spot for hanami is Maizuru Park, home to the old ruins of Fukuoka Castle.
Further north, Itsukushima is known for its shrine and floating torii gate in the sea. The best hanami spot here is the area around Tahoto pagoda. From here, you can enjoy a view of the pagoda surrounded by cherry blossoms, see the iconic torii gate, and the clear waters of the Seto Inland Sea.
In Niigata, Takada Park is among the three best places in Japan if you want to view cherry blossoms at night. The illuminated flowers give off an ethereal glow and are just as lovely in the night time.
You are not just limited to the blooms in popular cities like Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. Make sure to do your research and find out where’s the best spot for you! Check out this list for more popular places to catch cherry blossoms in Japan.
4. Know what to do if you miss peak bloom
Because the cherry blossom season is pretty short, you might miss the peak bloom even if you plan all you can. The good news is that early bloomers and late bloomers aren’t too hard to find. If you head somewhere with a large number of trees, you’ll still have a perfectly pleasant viewing experience.
For instance, Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo has more than 1,000 different sakura trees. This means you’ll get to see some of them blooming for at least a week after the peak bloom. And if you miss peak bloom in Nagano, head to Takato Castle Ruins Park, which is home to about 1,500 sakura trees.
Don’t be afraid to ask the locals for their suggestion on where to go. As long as you’re within a week or so of the bloom, you’ll be able to find some cherry blossom trees showing off their flowers.
5. Remember that flexibility is key
When it comes to booking your flight and accommodations, make sure to exercise a little bit more planning. You’ll want to stay somewhere near public transit lines or the parks itself. Japan’s excellent public transportation infrastructure makes the former fairly easy, but if you’re hoping to be within walking distance of a park, you’ll need to do some research.
More importantly, remember that flexibility is key. A cold wave could delay the cherry blossom (and your trip) by a few days, and you might need to change your flight or hotel reservations to ensure that you actually arrive in cherry blossom season. So book with hotels that allow for changes or cancellations. It’s also best to go with an airline that allows you to change your flight dates, even if it means paying a little extra.