Spring in Japan is associated with the tradition of 花見 (hanami, flower-viewing) where Japanese people gather in parks to have a picnic under the 桜 (sakura, cherry blossom trees). It is also associated with new beginnings such as entrance ceremonies to school and work, as well as the tasty sakura-flavored seasonal foods.
Spring is probably the best season to experience Japan and now that the borders are finally fully open again, we would like to give you some guidance on where to travel to best experience sakura in Japan.
Riding the “sakura wave”
If you like traveling, one of the most unforgettable things you can do in Japan is ride the “sakura wave”. In other words, following sakura blooming events from southern Japan and towards the north, visiting famous locations along the way.
The date that sakura bloom in Japan depends on altitude and latitude. Usually sakura start blooming in southern Japan around March 25, and in northern Hokkaido towards the end of April/beginning of May. This varies somewhat from year to year and it is recommended to double-check with a 開花予想 (kaika yosō, sakura bloom forecast) for the latest information.
The easiest way to comfortably do this trip is getting the “Japan Rail Pass” which allows unlimited access to most shinkansen (bullet trains) as well as all JR-trains for a set price. Read more about the Japan Rail Pass here.
The JR Pass has to be booked in advance and is only available to people living abroad. If you are in Japan already, another option is to get a 青春１８切符 (seishun jūhachi kippu). This is a seasonal rail pass which permits unlimited travel with the regular JR-train network for a set price. One ticket costs 12050 yen and can be stamped five times. One stamp allows unlimited travel for one day. The seishun jūhachi kippu can be bought at your nearest JR ticket office and is usable between March 1 – April 10.
Some great places to see sakura in Japan
Next we would like to introduce some great sakura spots to visit in Japan during spring. If you are living in Tokyo and want to know the best places there, see our guide here.
Fuji Five Lakes
One of the most iconic things you can do in Japan during spring is to make a trip to the Fuji Five Lakes and watch the sakura flutter in the wind with the towering Mt. Fuji in the background. There are plenty of hostels in the area of Lake Kawaguchiko and renting a bicycle to travel around the lakes is highly recommended. Why not combine it with resting in some outdoor hot springs?
Yoshinoyama and Nara City
Mt Yoshino, or 吉野山 Yoshinoyama is located in Nara Prefecture and historically famous for it’s 山桜 Yamazakura. The area is divided into four areas on different elevations. Because of the difference in elevation, there is some delay between when the sakura blooms between the areas. It is also a great place for hiking and admiring temples.
Before leaving Nara prefecture we also have to mention Nara City itself. Although not famous for its sakura, you can still find plenty of sakura in its beautiful parks. The real treat though are the impressive temples and thousands of friendly deer that share the park with you, and have learned to bow for food.
Temples, sakura, friendly deer that bow for you, do I need to say more?
Another great place to see sakura in Japan is Himeji Castle. The castle is surrounded by parks and water and is constructed on multiple layers of altitude, making the view of the castle absolutely magical with the sakura in the foreground.
Himeji Castle is easily accessible by train from Nara, Osaka, and Kyoto.
If you are traveling to the Tōhoku region of Japan, the most famous place for cherry blossom viewing is Hirosaki. The castle isn’t as huge as Himeji, but it’s still a beautiful sight. The surrounding park is also lovely and the town of Hirosaki is the cultural capital of northern Japan.
It is also home to over 50 types of different cherry blossoms, which gives rise to landscapes with a pretty palette of pink worth your visit.
If you are the kind of person who loves aesthetically pleasing gardens, then this garden will be worth your time. This huge Japanese style landscape garden is located in Kumamoto and truly shines when the many sakura trees all bloom at the same time. If you are lucky you may even find yourself inside a 桜吹雪 (sakura fubuki – “blizzard” of sakura flower petals).
If you are living in, or plan to visit the Kansai region (Kyoto, Osaka) you can’t go wrong with visiting Kyoto during spring. There are lots of excellent places for cherry-blossom viewing.
For example, we would recommend visiting Arashiyama 嵐山, Kiyomizudera 清水寺 and having a picnic along the Kamogawa river. That being said, there are many more excellent places so if you are visiting Kyoto, make sure to stay for at least a couple of days to have time to explore the city properly!
While you’re here, you can take a short train ride to nearby Osaka and admire the cherry blossoms there too – especially around the castle!
Shinjuku Imperial Garden
The Shinjuku Imperial Garden is one of the largest and most beautiful gardens in Japan and offers much more than just sakura. The trees, bushes and grass are daily maintained to be in aesthetically perfect harmony. If you just want to take some time off with your friends, sit in a quiet park and relax, this is the best place in the Tokyo area.
Just be aware that the park closes early and it does get crowded during sakura season, so it’s recommended to arrive before lunch time.
We have only scratched the surface of what places are worth visiting to see sakura in Japan. There are many more places to visit but hopefully this article was of some help while you figure out where to travel when going to Japan.
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