Japan is famous for its stunning cherry blossom season, or sakura (桜) season, during spring. Each year, from late March to early May, the country is awash with pink and white petals, drawing crowds of locals and tourists alike. While most people are familiar with the classic “Somei Yoshino” variety, there are actually many different types of sakura to discover.
Read on to learn more about the most popular types of sakura!
Different types of sakura
According to Japanese sources, there are over 600 different types of sakura trees spread across Japan. However, many of them have such subtle differences that it is near impossible to distinguish them from each-other with the naked eye.
That being said, there are some types of sakura that for various historical or aesthetic reasons stand out and are more popular.
Here is a list of the most popular types of sakura and where to best experience them.
Somei Yoshino (染井吉野)
Let’s start with the most famous and widely planted variety of sakura in Japan: Somei Yoshino. This delicate pale-pink blossom with five petals is the most common variety of sakura found throughout Japan. You can find it almost anywhere except for most of Hokkaido and Okinawa.
It usually blooms around late March to early April, and is characterized by its fleeting beauty. In fact, culturally and historically, the impermanence of things is viewed as something very precious in Japan (A concept commonly known as Mono no Aware 物のあわれ). Therefore, the Somei Yoshino – the petals of which typically fall off within a week of blooming – has been cherished throughout the ages in Japan.
Famous locations: Himeji Castle, Fuji Five Lakes, Ueno Park, Hirosaki Castle
Yamazakura, or “Mountain sakura”, are typically found in mountainous regions, particularly in central Japan. Yamazakura typically blooms around the same time as Somei Yoshino (late March, early April). Its blossoms are similar to Somei Yoshino’s white and pale-pink petals. Unlike Somei Yoshino though, Yamazakura’s petals can last slightly longer, up to two weeks.
Famous locations: Mt. Yoshino (Nara Prefecture)
This kind of sakura is very popular in Japanese gardens due to the aesthetic form of the tree itself. It is commonly known as “weeping sakura” due to the sakura blooms hanging from long thin branches drooping down vertically towards the ground. The shidare-zakura blooms around late March to early April, and its blossoms have a larger variation in colors ranging from white to vivid pink.
Also, the shidare-zakura is the official flower of Kyoto Prefecture.
Famous locations: Heian Shrine (Kyoto), Mishima Taisha (Fukuoka)
For those who want to see a more flamboyant sakura variety, look no further than Yaezakura. This is a catch-all term for any sakura that has more than 5 petals – some varieties have as many as 30-50 petals! Yae actually means “eight layers”, and as the name suggests, the blooms consist of multiple layers of petals.
The Yaezakura tend to have more vivid colors, although there are white blossoms as well. What’s special about the Yaezakura is that they tend to bloom for a longer period (around a month) and have a lot more petals per flower compared to the Somei Yoshino.
If you missed the peak sakura season you may still be in time to see the Yaezakura blooming event as it starts blooming from mid April to mid May.
Famous locations: Nara Park, Shinjuku Gyoen, Oniushi Park (Hokkaido)
If you happen to be early to Japan and want to experience sakura, there are options for you as well. As it so happens, the Kawazuzakura located on the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture starts blooming as early as in the beginning of February! The best time for viewing tends to be late February or early March, but it is heavily dependent on weather conditions.
There is also a matsuri (祭り, festival) associated with the blooming event of the Kawazuzakura – called the Kawazu cherry blossom festival. Visiting this festival is one of the best ways to embrace the feelings of spring early on.
The Kawazuzakura has a more pinkish color compared to its other sakura cousins such as the Somei Yoshino.
Famous locations: Kawazu City (Shizuoka Prefecture)
For more information on great spots to experience sakura in Japan, see our article here. If you live in Tokyo and are interested in knowing more about the best places there, click here.
Although the most famous, cherry blossoms aren’t the only type flower that blooms during spring in Japan. The plum blossom (梅花 baika), is often mistaken for cherry blossoms, but there are a few key differences.
One of the main differences is in the petals. Cherry blossoms have a split at the end of each petal, whereas plum blossoms don’t.
The leaves of a cherry tree are green, while those of the plum tree are a deep reddish-purple.
Plum blossoms tend to bloom earlier than cherry blossoms, often in February. When they finish, other flowers usually take over.
When to go flower-viewing in Japan?
Most commonly, sakura bloom from late March until early April. There are exceptions, such as the Kawazuzakura which starts blooming in February, and the Yaezakura which blooms until the middle of May.
Note that the date depends on where you are in Japan. So it is best to regularly check a sakura forecast for the latest information!
Furthermore, the blooming event can be divided into different parts, and each part offers a certain beauty on its own. Some people prefer to see the sakura when they just begin to sprout, as frailty is a sense of aesthetic beauty in Japanese culture.
Other people may prefer the timing when the trees are in full bloom and literally color the landscape pink. There are also people who cherish the very last moments of the blooming event when the petals fall off and fly away with the wind in what is called a sakura fubuki (桜吹雪, literally sakura blizzard).
The tradition of flower-viewing in Japan is called hanami (花見) and involves picnicking and socializing under the sakura trees. It is a great way to experience the blooming of different types of sakura in Japan.
Now that you know more about the different types of sakura in Japan, the next step is to learn the language so that you truly can socialize with Japanese people under the various kinds of sakura trees that cover Japan. Feel free to contact us to learn more about studying Japanese in Japan.
If you are interested in learning more about life in Japan, the culture and history, or learning the Japanese language – follow our blog!