Spring is almost here – and with it, so are cherry blossoms, in all their delicate, transient splendour. And when sakura bloom, all of Japan gets ready for hanami, their traditional way of welcoming spring by watching these lovely flowers as they dust the very air with their beauty. Pardon the cliché, but nothing better describes the country during this time than ‘a sight to behold.’ We can’t emphasise this enough – Japan, in the springtime, is something you simply must not miss! And since sakura bloom only for a few days or weeks, it’s important that you know what the best times and places to view cherry blossoms in the country are, eliminating any chance of missing out!
When: March 26 – April 10If you’re travelling to Japan for the cherry blossoms, there is no better place than Tokyo to begin your viewings. Tokyo may be a thriving, neon-lit metropolis, but come April the city is taken over by sakura, and you can hardly turn a street corner without coming face to face with a cherry tree in full bloom. As such, some of Japan’s best cherry blossom viewing spots are in Tokyo, so you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Begin at Asukayama Park. As one of Tokyo’s oldest sakura viewing spots, this park offers the opportunity to enjoy leisurely picnics under its blossoming, fragrant trees. We recommend making it a long visit – for once evening falls, and the park lights go up, the place is transformed into a dreamy fairyland.
If romance is what you want, it doesn’t get sweeter than Inokashira Park. The park itself is lovely, with hundreds of cherry trees in full bloom. But what makes a visit here truly special is the lake at the centre of the park – imagine drifting over the water, trailing your fingers over the side of the boat, while all around you soft petals spiral in the breeze and transport you to dreamland.
As Japan’s capital and one of the top cherry blossom viewing destinations in the world, Tokyo can get crowded during sakura season. If you want to view sakura in some relative peace and quiet, do visit the Koishikawa Botanical Garden. Admission isn’t free – but that guarantees fewer visitors. And the many varieties of cherry trees, to say nothing of a Japanese landscape garden, make the garden a serenely uplifting place to visit.
A list of sakura viewing spots in Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Yoyogi Park and Sumida Park, as well as Chidorigafuchi, where you can pack in a visit to a feudal castle, Yasukuni Shrine, and Kitanomaru Park, all in a single day. And round up your Tokyo cherry blossom fest with a twilight walk along the Meguro River, where the cherry trees are lit up once the Nakameguro Sakura Festival begins. We can’t guarantee your appetite for cherry blossoms will be filled once the season ends in Tokyo, but we can promise that you’ll come very close to it!
When: March 29 – April 12
Ah, Kyoto, the traveller’s dream come true! On an ordinary day, Kyoto is mysterious, fascinating, and downright gorgeous – so can you imagine what the city must be like once its cherry trees are blooming? We’ll tell you – it’s inordinately beautiful. And you don’t want to miss it. But neither do you want to get stuck amid awed masses of fellow tourists, trying desperately to find an empty space under a tree or a miraculously unoccupied bench so that you can watch the flowers, and not your fellow humans.
So why not go off the beaten garden path? Because the best thing about Kyoto has always been the secrets it keeps, waiting to be uncovered.
The cherry trees at Shoujiji Temple were planted a few centuries ago by a priest. Such was their beauty then – and still is now – that every year visitors come to the temple just to take in the amazing sight of these ancient trees in gentle contentment.
Konkai-Komyoji Temple is another of Kyoto’s hidden cherry blossom treasure-troves. This millennium-old temple is an architectural wonder on its own, but what few travellers realise is that its grounds are populated by dozens of cherry trees. Now picture this – an ancient temple set upon a hilltop, nestled among the pale softness of sakura, as the rays of the setting sun slant across the scene, bathing everything in a rosy glow that will warm your very soul.
Heian Shrine is far too popular to make it on the list of Kyoto’s lesser-known wonders; but the very fact that the most stunning weeping cherry trees in Kyoto grow here makes us put it on our must-visit list. And once you’ve had your fill of these willowy, trailing beauties, treat yourself to a boat ride down the cherry blossom-lined Okazaki Canal, which flows outside the shrine.
Did you think that was it? Oh, no. Once in Kyoto, you’ll just have to get used to being overcome by the loveliness you’ll encounter here. The city is also famous for its local varieties of cherry trees, some of which bloom later in the season. Haradani-en Garden is a great spot if you’re in the mood for more weeping sakura trees, as are Daigoji Temple and the Kyoto Botanical Garden. And we really must make a special mention of Ninnaji Temple, which is home to Omuro Cherry trees, a unique variety that is short enough that all you have to do is raise your arms to touch the branches that are clustered thickly with blossoms.
When: March 30 – April 13If it’s cherry blossoms you want, cherry blossoms you shall get. Tourists don’t generally visit Osaka Castle for the gardens, but all that changes come springtime. Four thousand cherry trees in glorious, glorious bloom, all yours to behold. Sounds like a good place to start? It is, except for the tiny snag where you may not be able to tear yourself away long enough to visit Osaka’s other spots!
Japan is already rich in gardens that look like they’ve come right out of a fairy tale, but Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park is a standout example of floral extravagance that should be next on your sakura viewing list. The hundreds of cherry trees native to the park are enough of an attraction, but combine them with the dozens of sub-gardens representing various countries’ decorative flora, and you get a park that is a gardener’s delight, a florist’s dream, and a cherry blossom viewer’s paradise.
Next up, we simply have to tell you about Kema Sakuranomiya Park. Set along the banks of the Osaka River, the park is home to some five thousand cherry trees that line the aforementioned banks, making for a walk to remember. And if ever there was an excuse to go jogging at the crack of dawn – this would be it!
And if you’re in the mood for more, don’t forget to check out the Osaka Mint Bureau, which has over one hundred types of cherry trees on its grounds; and the Expo 70 Commemorative Park, which was once the site of a World Exhibition and is now home to thousands of cherry trees and is one of Osaka’s most popular picnic spots, no matter time of the year it is.
When: April 27 – May 8Can’t get away to view cherry blossoms in April? Hokkaido has you covered. The further north you go in Japan, the later the sakura bloom, and Hokkaido doesn’t get truly underway until summer arrives. But for those of you who have waited this long to see them, you’ll be in for a rare treat. Start your viewing at Matsumae Park, which is home to many different varieties of cherry trees. The upside? Each variety of cherry tree blooms at a different time, so the park will probably become your favourite picnic spot nearly all month long. And Matsumae Castle, around which the park is set, is another visual treat in itself.
Hokkaido is rich in both cherry trees and unusual architecture. Goryokaku Fort, a star-shaped Edo-period citadel constructed along Western lines, invites the discerning tourist to enjoy the show put on by the 1000 cherry trees that line the fort’s moats. Dazzling? We bet you’ll find it so.
If the thousands of trees gracing the grounds of Hokkaido’s castles don’t fill your appetite for cherry blossoms, why not take a trip to Maruyama Park and its neighbouring shrine? A popular picnic spot at all times, once May begins, the park and the shrine live up to their reputation as one of the best places for cherry blossom viewing in all of Japan. Totally worth the wait, we feel.
Traveling to Taiwan, Japan or South Korea to witness the sakura miracle this spring? Use promocode SAKURA17 and get 8% OFF on your HomeAway booking. Promocode valid till March 31st, 2017 only.
All the dates are based on previous years’ estimates. It is advised to check official information from the Japan Meteorological Administration for accurate dates for 2017.
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