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All About Japan's Cherry Blossoms and the best places to see them.

Planning a trip to Japan during Sakura Season? Here's everything you need to know about the Festival and the best places to see Cherry Blossoms.

Beautiful and festive, Japan’s cherry blossom season is serious business! There are prediction tables and blossom blogs, forecasts and bloom charts. Then you need to factor in weather, the species of blossom, if you want to see it in “bud”, “bloom” or “fall”...all in order to work out which city you need to be in and when.

Calculating the moment seemed an enormous challenge - and one that my travel buddy was expecting me to get right. Sure we were going to Japan to see other things, but mostly it was the cherry blossoms. And the food. But mostly the cherry blossoms.

In the end, I took a punt. We had 3 weeks across several cities at the end of March and early April so there was a good chance we would see some blossom action, somewhere. Still, I was a little nervous we might just miss out everywhere we went. Instead, what we got was a full range from bud through blossom and into fall with unexpected food delights and surprising insight into centuries of Japanese Sakura culture.

Sakura Season: What is it all about?

Sakura, or Cherry Blossom season runs from late January to mid May, though the most likely timeframe to see the blossoms is late March to Mid April.

Blossoms go through the stages of bud, bloom and fall generally over a period of 2 weeks. Seeing the blossoms in bloom is magnificent. Clouds of soft pink and white billow throughout parks, along river banks and around temples. Mountains are dotted in the marshmellowy floral trees and festivities are in full swing everywhere. The ‘fall’ is equally beautiful with the soft pastel petals falling like snow and laying a pink canopy across manicured Japanese gardens.

But working out the best time and place to see the spectacle can be difficult. Nature is a fickle thing, the exact date that buds burst into bloom depends on the climate and weather. And there are localised complexities as well. Although, the season tends to run from south to north, Tokyo will bloom earlier than the southern cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Add 200 different varieties of cherry blossoms into the mix and that means the date of the bloom and how long they last differs tree to tree.

The good news is that Sakura season is so much a part of Japanese culture every town, and certainly every city, will have hundreds of trees bursting with colour at some point over those couple of months. For the uninitiated, pouring over the perplexing forecasts isn’t particularly necessary. Pick a city, any city and go out and enjoy the festival.

Hanami: Getting into the festive spirit

It’s not only tourists that come out to see the Cherry Blossoms. One of the great things about Sakura season is the number of Japanese who are out and about enjoying it. Just like us mesmerised tourists, they wander in groups, dressed in geisha costumes and armed with selfie sticks, posing regularly for photos under the flowers, and picnicking well into the night in lantern decorated parks.

“Hanami” is the name given to the Cherry Blossom festival. The word literally means ‘viewing flowers’ but the festival is about much more than just a pretty bloom. It marks the arrival of spring, a time of rebirth which is also the start of the Japanese fiscal and school years. The festival is also a celebration of the beauty and transience of nature. And it is enjoyed in groups of family or friends because most of all, the festival is about the fellowship of others.

Hanami definitely has a festive atmosphere: market stalls, geisha dressing, outdoor concerts, boating… People go with their friends or family, take elaborate picnics and spread a blanket under the blossoms. The festival continues late into night (called “Yozakura” or 'night sakura’) when the market stalls become even more crowded, there’s entertainment, sideshow games, plum wine, and the blossoms are illuminated by colourful, paper lanterns.

Food for Thought

Food plays an important part in the festival and Sakura themed foods and sweets are particularly popular. You will find Sakura ice-cream, pink mochi balls, blossom shaped biscuits and cherry flavoured drinks. Even fast food stores like McDonald’s join in with cherry flavoured or pink coloured food and “sakura” named items.

Although “Sakura” means cherry blossom, and they are by far the most prevalent flowers, “Ume” (plum blossoms) also come out at the same time of year and drinking the sweet tasting plum wine with the Sakura treats is a happy way to celebrate the colourful season.

The Tradition & Symbolism of Sakura

Blossoms are beautiful, delicate, but fleeting, taking just two weeks from bloom to fall they are a metaphor for life itself: it’s beauty and mortality. And it’s this symbolism of cherry blossoms that has been celebrated in Japanese culture for centuries.

Sakura references can be found right through the nation’s history, in paintings, poetry and even in the hardened practice of war. Samurai warriors wore Sakura blossom images on their armour while WWII Kamikaze pilots emblazoned the symbol on their doomed aircraft.

In World War II Japanese Kamikaze pilots painted the blossom on their plane with the words: ’”Die like the beautiful falling cherry petals for the Emperor”.

The blossoms also symbolise rebirth, a new beginning. And this is why the Japanese fiscal and educational ‘new year’ starts in early April when the blossoms beauty fill us with hope and celebration.


Stock up on a range of Sakura picnic food, plum wine and, in in the local tradition of Hanami, head to a local park for some serious viewing. These are some of the best:

  1. OKINAWA - one of the first places to see in the season, with the bright pink blooms coming out in mid January and early February meaning you can see Cherry Blossoms even in winter.

  2. HIROSHIMA PEACE MEMORIAL PARK the symbolism of cherry blossoms is strongly felt in this lovely lakeside park that advocates for world peace and commemorates the enormous loss of life caused by the US atomic bomb attack during WWII.

  3. KYOTO'S MARUYAMA PARK is Kyoto’s most popular Hanami spot. It comes alive every spring with picnickers, entertainment, bars and festive market stalls that continue under lantern light well into the night.

  4. THE PHILOSOPHERS PATH, KYOTO is a long ambling, canal side stone path that's lined with hundreds of cherry blossoms. It’s a popular path lined with market stalls, artisans and cafes as well as a number of tourist jumping off points as it winds its way between the Imperial Palace and Nanzenji Temple.

  5. ARASHIYAMA this riverside town on the outskirts of Kyoto is a beautiful place for a boat ride past country hills adorned with cheery blossoms. It also has a bamboo forest, monkey park and streets of preserved heritage buildings.

  6. OSAKA CASTLE the castle grounds are filled with thousands of cherry blossom trees, but also thousands of locals and tourists there to see the blossoms and buildings. There are certainly quieter places in Osaka, but few more iconic.

  7. NARA not only will you be snapping selfies with the Cherry Blossoms in Nara but also but also the friendly deer in this Edo period Temple town.

  8. TOKYO'S SHINJUKU GYOEN is a huge rambling old park in the middle of the city. With wide open spaces, bridged ponds and landscaped gardens there are plenty of Hanami spots.

  9. MT FUJI 5 LAKES (FUJIGOKO) the iconic image of Japan in Cherry Blossom season has the famous Mt Fuji sitting beautifully in the background. Lake Kawaguchiko is the most accessible of the 5 Lakes with superb viewing spots on it's northern shores and at nearby Oshino Hakkai and Chureito Pagoda. If you arrive late for the blossoms you might catch the Shibazakura Festival, a carpet of pink flowers that bloom around the base of Mt Fuji in May.

  10. HIROSAKI PARK & CASTLE high into the northern parts of Japan is Hirosaki, one of Japan's official Top 3 Hanami spots. With over 2500 trees, moats, blossom tunnels and a picuteresque castle Hirosaki Park is a sakura wonderland. As it’s in the north the blossoms peak late April - early May meaning it’s a great option for those who arrive late in the season.





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