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Japan is home to several impressive sites, including the UNESCO World Heritage villages of Shirakawa-go, iconic mountain peaks like Mount Fuji and a plethora of religious temples dotted far and wide across the country. However, there is something else about Japan that is recognized the world over — its cherry blossom trees that in springtime bloom in beautiful pink hues. Noticed as a symbol of the transient nature of life, the cherry blossom tree is Japan’s biggest attraction, and the custom of viewing the flowers is called hanami. Thinking about visiting? Read on — in this article we cover everything there is to know about the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan.
Cherry blossom trees bloom at different times across the country and may come earlier or later in the year depending on the weather. In general, cherry blossom season begins in January and peaks in late March in the Honshu region, while specifically in Hokkaido the full bloom is in May.
The best time to see the cherry blossoms in Japan is during the cherry blossom festival, during which hanami is practiced to celebrate the beauty of the pink flowering trees. The festival brings crowds of tourists all gathered in parks across the country to celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom tree. The 2020 cherry blossom festival in Japan will be held from March 20th to April 13th.
1. Ueno Park , Tokyo
One of Japan’s busiest, liveliest, and most popular spots to enjoy the cherry blossoms and surrounding festivals is Ueno Park. This spacious public park in Tokyo is home to more than 1,000 cherry blossom trees that line the street towards the park's museums. The park puts on an illumination viewing in the evening. The annual festival runs from late March to early April.
- Good to know: While the springtime brings with it reasonably warm weather, we recommend bringing warm clothing if you’re planning to stay out after the sun sets to admire the cherry blossoms in the evening glow.
2. Nishinomaru Garden in Osaka Castle, Osaka
Nishinomaru garden is one of Osaka’s biggest and most popular city parks renowned for its manicured lawns and cherry blossom trees. In spring, around 600 cherry trees are in full bloom and fill the gardens. Climb to the top of the castle tower for spectacular views over the moat and grounds.
- Good to know: The gardens are closed on Mondays and are open from 9 am–5 pm every other day.
3. Hokkaido Shrine, Sappora
Located in central Sappora’s Maruyama park, Hokkaido Shrine is the burial place of numerous early explorers of Hokkaido. The shrine is also home to the blooming cherry blossom trees which spread over 180,000 square-meters. Early to mid-May is the most popular time to visit.
- Good to know: Maruyama park is open 24/7 all year round, so there’s no shortage of viewing times.
4. Mount Yoshino, Nara
Yoshino Mountain is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site of outstanding beauty, particularly in the spring time when hundreds of cherry blossom trees bloom across the surrounding hillside creating a blanket of pink. Yoshino has been one of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots for multiple centuries and is considered to be one of the best spots in the country.
- Good to know: During the cherry blossom season, Mount Yoshino can get very crowded. If you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy the blooms, visit Yoshino Mikumari-jinja shrine. The shrine offers has a beautiful garden filled with cherry blossom trees and offers sweeping vistas of the cherry blossoms.
5. Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima
Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park is a park honoring the lives lost during the nuclear attack and is dedicated to preserving the memory of a city and its legacy. Both banks of the Motoyasu River, which runs through the Peace Memorial Park, are lined with cherry blossom trees, drawing in crowds of admirers throughout spring.
- Good to know: The park looks beautiful in bloom, and while you might be intrigued to take a lot of pictures please be considerate and make sure that you don't take inappropriate pictures in the memorial as it is considered disrespectful and offensive to the memorial efforts in the park.
6. Himeji Castle, Himeji
Himeji Castle is a spectacular hilltop Japanese castle complex and one of the top ten places to view cherry blossom trees. The pink trees are found dotted around the gardens and even actually inside the castle, making this spot particularly popular with visitors looking for that perfect cherry blossom shot. Be aware that during peak weekends across March and April, tickets to access the castle are given out on a first come first served basis.
- Good to know: If you’re attending the Himeji castle nighttime illumination viewing party, we strongly recommend arriving at least 2 hours before sunset to secure a decent viewing spot.
7. Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto
Philosopher’s Path is a paved walking trail that follows a cherry tree-lined canal between Kyoto’s Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji districts. On a normal day, the trail can be completed in just over 30 minutes but during the spring, you’ll likely spend well over an hour here taking pictures of the blossom trees that line the walkway. Prepare to wander down a majestic pink and white tunnel lined with over 500 cherry trees, where petals drop to the floor and float away down the canal. It really is quite fairytale-esque!
- Good to know: Keep your eyes peeled for signs pointing towards small temples and shrines that sit just a few blocks off the main route, they make for a great detour!
8. Onshi Hakone Park, Hakone
Onshi Hakone Park is a spectacular former imperial palace complex found in Hakone and today home to numerous walking paths and observation platforms. The park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic amidst the cherry blossoms, as this beautiful green space also boasts a pretty lake and thousands of trees.
- Good to know: While the park is open 24 hours every day, it’s worth noting that the lakeside observation building only opens from 9 am – 4:30 pm.
9. Yoshino, Kansai
The town of Yoshino is found at the northern end of Japan’s Kii mountain range and is a well-known cherry blossom viewing spot. Here you’ll find an outlook that offers spectacular panoramic views of over 1,000 cherry blossom trees swaying in the valley wind and spread out over the surrounding mountains. Legend has it that the first cherry blossom trees were planted around the town some 1,300 years ago and today over 30,000 trees spread across the prefecture.
- Good to know: From Yoshino town, there are four regions of cherry blossom to explore; Shimo Senbon, Naka Senbon, Kami Senbon, and Oku Senbon. While cherry blossom trees in the town are pretty, it’s worth heading up to each of these regions to admire the views.
10. Shizuoka Prefecture, Mount Fuji
Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture is found on Honshu Island’s Pacific coast and is famously home to the mighty Mount Fuji, the country’s highest peak. Within the region, there are plenty of fantastic places to enjoy cherry blossom viewing including Okuni Shrine, Hamamatsu Castle Park, Fuji Cemetery, and Sakura no Sato. For spectacular views of Mount Fuji with cherry blossoms, you’re going to want to explore the Fuji Five Lakes Region around mid-April.
- Good to know: For the best photograph of Mount Fuji with cherry blossom in the foreground, head to Chureito pagoda; a popular destination with professional photographers.
- Check the Sakura forecast before booking your trip to Japan to help predict when the season will begin and end. The forecast is based on data from previous years and considers the effect rainfall and temperature will have on the bloom.
- Once you’ve settled on particular dates within the season of cherry blossom festival in Japan, book your flights and accommodation as soon as you can. The cherry blossom season brings with it an influx of tourists which means hotel rooms and flights book up fast.
- If unexpected weather rolls in, you need to be prepared to change your viewing destination. It might be worth booking accommodation with free last-minute cancellations. The more prepared you are to cancel your hotel and head across the country in the pursuit of the cherry blossom you are, the less stress you’ll have trying to view them.
- Make sure you bring warm layers or a jacket, particularly if you plan to stay at a festival after the sun goes down. While the thought of beautiful pink and white flowers against a backdrop of the blue sky makes you feel all kinds of warm, don’t forget spring in Japan can be cold.
- Just like you, there are many people desperate to see one of Japan’s best natural wonders so prepare to be sharing the cherry blossom trees with plenty of other people. Rising early to view the trees is the best answer to avoiding the crowds.
- Soak up all that the festivals have to offer, beyond just awesome cherry blossom viewing spots. While it would be easy to head to a festival, admire the trees and leave, try to immerse yourself in all things Japan while you’re here! Have a picnic in the park, enjoy street food, and stay up late to watch the evening light shows.
Japanese cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, but predicting exactly when the blossom will be in full swing is hard, making booking a Japan tour tricky. We recommended doing your research and following our tips to make sure you get a chance to participate in this world-renowned festival. Once you’ve figured out when you’d like to watch this incredible phenomenon you won’t be disappointed and can firmly say you’ve participated in the ancient tradition of Hanami, having “viewed the flowers”. Don’t forget your camera!