Japan is cherry blossom obsessed! Just ask them, they won’t deny it.
The appreciation of ‘sakura’ to them, and cherry blossom to us, is a phenomenon that began in the 8th century and has spawned poetry, art and Starbucks lattes aplenty, but why? Well, Japan is a wonderfully philosophical and traditional nation with deep rooted beliefs and a great appreciation for the natural world. The cherry blossoms perfectly symbolise the beauty and fleeting nature of life, and also new beginnings – blooming in most spectacular fashion for a week before giving way to fresh, green buds that bring Spring proper. Although it varies slightly from year to year, depending on the weather, the first of the blossom appear in the sub-tropical Okinawa in late January and travel up the country, passing through Tokyo and Kyoto in late March/early April to reach the north, Hokkaido, in early May. The build-up to the first blossom is intense with teams of cherry blossom officials at the ready to announce the season begun, meteorological reports and a range of sakura-flavoured snacks and drinks available everywhere.
The cherry blossom season is all about hanami or ‘looking at flowers’, one of Japan’s oldest and most time-honoured rituals. This is being outside amongst the blossoms, perhaps walking, perhaps picnicking, perhaps relaxing and savouring the overwhelming pink beauty, something that travellers to Japan can very easily join the local people in doing. So where are the best places for you to enjoy this vibrant and aesthetically-pleasing time in the Japanese calendar? Do read on…
Okinawa, a string of some of the southernmost islands of the archipelago is the first place that the cherry blossom tsunami hits, usually in late January. The islands have great weather, beautiful beaches, laidback vibes and are famous for their numerous centurions – the fact they are so different from the rest of Japan is a good enough reason to explore the area anyway, and cherry blossoms are an added bonus! The Yanbaru region is particularly picturesque for cherry blossom viewing, as one of Asia’s largest tracts of rainforest, whilst UNESCO World Heritage Site Nakijin Castle holds an annual cherry blossom festival around the walls of the historic structure. Nishi Park, on the island of Kyushu has over 3,000 blossom trees to picnic under, with plenty of other excellent cherry blossom viewing close by.
It’s not much of a surprise that Kyoto is the most popular place in Japan to hanami, thanks to its long history and spectacular sights. Bearing in mind that these places will all be very busy, Maruyama Park has a gorgeous weeping cherry tree, the Kamo River is lined with cherry blossoms and so is a beautiful walk, and the Imperial Palace Park has cherry blossoms throughout. Stroll the Philosopher’s Path for more cherry blossom action (the whole path is lined with them) as well as hidden shrines and temples. The cherry blossoms bloom in Kyoto between the last week of March and first two weeks of April.
Although it is the great metropolis, Tokyo has some fantastic spots to enjoy the cherry blossoms in parks and along rivers. One of the most popular places for a cherry blossom soiree is Ueno Park, where there are more than 1,000 trees lined along a street. In one of the city’s liveliest districts, you can find calm on the lawns of Shinjuku Gyoen surrounded by numerous varieties of blossoms, whilst in Asukayama Park enjoy some blossom illumination in the evenings. These are just three of loads and loads of options in Tokyo – the blossoms arrive in the last two weeks of March.
In early May, the cherry blossom reaches its northern limit, the island of Hokkaido. The island’s capital Sapporo might be known for its ice festival, but in the spring it is dedicated to fragile pink blossoms. Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine, Odori Park and Moerenuma Park are all great places to join the hanami revellers. Close to Sapporo, just outside the town of Shinhidaka, you’ll find one of Japan’s top rated cherry blossom spots and top rated roads! The Shizunai Nijukken Road is lined by a dense row of cherry blossoms – a wonderfully scenic drive. If you prefer a touch of history with your cherry blooms, try Matsumae where the blossom in the park (there are about 10,000 trees!) that surrounds the castle create a unique Japanese scene.
The cherry blossom season is Japan’s peak tourism season and gets very busy so if you would like to experience hanami for yourself it’s a good idea to book as far in advance as possible. Tokyo and Kyoto are two of the most popular places for local and tourists alike to congregate to see the blossoms, so why not try one somewhere a little more off the beaten track – ask us for more options there are plenty of them! Give one of the Asia Inspirations experts a call to discuss your Japan trip now!
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