The delicate pink cherry blossoms of Japan attract tourists in droves each year. The blossoms, known as sakura, are a hallmark of Japanese culture. With a short lifespan and presence that comes out during spring, this beautiful blossom is associated with new life and its delicate nature. Along with their cultural importance, the blooming of the cherry blossom is a national event in Japan. Numerous festivals take place each year to celebrate the season as people gather together to watch the delicate flower from first bloom to its fullest expression.
The short period of the cherry blossom has led millions of people to visit Japan each year to catch a glimpse. People from around the world come to witness the kaika (open) to mankai (full bloom) of the cherry blossoms. It is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime event to witness and one that speaks deeply to each individual.
As these lush flowers are depicted in art, literature, film, poetry, and many other ways, they are famous around the world. So it is no surprise that just a glimpse of the sacred trees is highly sought after. With that in mind, many want to know the best time of year to view cherry blossoms in Japan as well as the best places to see them. Let’s take a look.
What Month Is the Cherry Blossom Season in Japan?
The Japanese Cherry Blossom season depends on the specific location or area travelers are visiting, but the general blooming season across Japan is from March to early May. Japanese Cherry Blossoms bloom in the south first and make their way up to the north. Japan covers an area of nearly 2,000 miles, which means there are multiple locations and times to see the cherry blossoms. But, the flower’s process of hatching, budding and falling all happens in the span of about two weeks. So, travelers should make haste if they aim to see the sprouting beauty of the cherry blossoms (especially if travelers want to visit different locations).
The Japanese Meteorology Corporation provides a full bloom forecast annually for those who want to know the best time to go see the Japanese Cherry Blossoms. Factors like storms, frigid winter temperatures, wind, and even altitude can impact the timing of each year’s bloom.
The south of Japan sees the first flowers of spring and is a great place to visit, even if travelers are on a cherry blossom tour of the country. For travelers looking to visit southern cities, mid to late March is the perfect time to travel to Japan. During this time the temperatures start to rise, but travelers should take note of the specific geographical location of their travel destination since milder winter weather means earlier blooms.
The cherry blossoms of northern Japan bloom a bit later. Once the warmer temperatures reach the north, it is the ideal time for visitors to see the breathtaking flowers. Northern cities see the blossoms bloom around April to early May, but travelers should aim to arrive in mid-April to ensure they do not miss the stunning blush-colored flowers.
Where Can You See the Cherry Blossoms in Japan?
Kyoto is one of the best southern cities to see the sakura in bloom. The city is the seventh largest in Japan and is located in the Kansai region. Because the city has a healthy population and is a metropolitan area, Kyoto has many beautiful places to view cherry blossoms. Maruyama Park is one of the most popular places to view the trees. This public park in southern Japan is a main center for sakura viewing and even has a large weeping cherry tree which is ornamented with lights each year so it illuminates the night.
Himeji is a city that faces the Seto Inland Sea and is about an hour from Kyoto. Himeji is home to national treasures that amplify travelers’ experiences of the sakura by providing premier viewing spots. One such spot is also a national treasure, the Himeji Castle. This large, white castle is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous because it has been standing since the time of its construction (around 1346), during the feudal period of Japan. The castle is the largest in Japan (standing at over 150 feet) and thanks to the Himeyama Hill it sits on, overlooks the city, and is a great vantage point to enjoy the surrounding cherry blossoms.
Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, is certainly a popular tourist destination. During cherry blossom season, people flock to Tokyo’s parks. For visitors of the southern capital city, the second to third week of March is the ideal time to see the cherry blossoms and partake in activities. Of course, since Tokyo is wildly popular, visitors who are in Japan during sakura season will have plenty of opportunities to observe the rows of perfectly pink flowers. Ueno Park is in the Taitō district of Tokyo and is a popular place for leisure activities. The Shinobazu Pond, which many people canoe on, is surrounded by cherry blossom trees and is a great spot during sakura season.
Aomori, Japan is one the top destinations to view cherry blossoms. The city is located in the Tōhoku region of Japan and is the northernmost capital city of Honshu (Japan’s mainland). Hirosaki park is one of its most frequented public areas and has around 2,600 sakura trees, with some that are nearly 300 years old. Hirosaki Castle, built in 1611, is a popular attraction in the city and the three-story castle is commonly utilized by those viewing the nearby cherry blossoms. The views from the park and castle are stunning, especially at night since the sakura trees are lit up for passersby to enjoy.
Iwate is a rural town in Japan that has a rugged atmosphere and many historic sites. It has the lowest population density of mainland Japan (Honshu), so this destination suits travelers who want to avoid potential sakura season crowds. The Kitakami Tenshochi Park is popular for sakura viewing and has a photogenic canopy that is created by the cherry blossom trees. The trees can be viewed from both the Kitakami River and Kitakami Park.
Miyagi, Japan is one of the most populated areas of the Tohoku region. Hitome Senbonzakura, which is a popular area in Miyagi, translates to a “view of a thousand cherry trees” in Japanese. Hitome Senbonzakura is a viewing spot along the Shiroishi River where travelers can view around 1,200 cherry blossom trees. With stunning views of the Zao Mountains, travelers will cherish the seemingly endless rows of trees that decorate the riverside.
How Can You Celebrate Sakura in Japan?
Hanami is a Japanese tradition that means the viewing and appreciation of cherry blossoms. Each year, many people join together and have picnics under the blooming cherry trees. Since the flowers and leaves of cherry blossoms are edible, people enjoy different cherry blossom inspired drinks and foods during the seasonal events. Some favorites are sakura blossom tea, sakura mochi cakes, and sakura cold noodles.
Cherishing the short life of the sakura is a custom that is commonly observed by locals, so there are events honoring them. Whether travelers prefer to be a part of a more formal or casual celebration, there are options for everyone. Here are some of the most popular events to celebrate the cherry blossom in Japan.
Nakameguro Sakura-Matsuri Festival
This festival is located in Tokyo and is one of the most popular gatherings for hanami. The Nakameguro Canal (on the Meguro River) turns into a sakura wonderland each year. Around 800 trees line the Meguro River and with an over two mile stretch there is plenty of space and blossoms for travelers to walk around and see. This part of Nakameguro becomes quite populated during sakura season, so travelers may prefer to sit in quieter spots after viewing the pink canopy of cherry trees.
The Goryokaku Cherry Blossom Festival
This festival in Hakodate City celebrates the beauty and grandeur of Japan’s nature. The people of Japan and many visitors join together around late April to early May to enjoy food, drinks, music, and of course, flowers. With nearly 1,500 cherry blossom trees in the star-shaped Goryokaku Park, this festival provides visitors with an exciting celebration that is even illuminated at night. The park is located on a historical fort (hence the unique star shape) and has a tower that is commonly used during the festival to overlook the cherry blossoms.
Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival
Commonly held in Kitakami Tenshochi Park from early to late April, this riverside festival has rows and rows of cherry blossom trees. Travelers looking to experience more of Japan’s culture will enjoy this event since it has music and dance performances and even a lantern-lighting ceremony. There are also up to 300 colorful koinobori, which are streamers in the shape of carp (more recognizable as koi fish banners), that are placed above the Kitakami River. This engaging festival is a great opportunity for travelers to celebrate the natural beauty of Japan.