Usually when thinking of spring in Japan you probably imagine people gathering in parks, watching the cherry blossom trees. That is indeed part of spring in Japan, but there is so much more to experience than that. Everything from tasty sakura-flavored seasonal foods to matsuri and hiking. Read on if you are interested in learning more about what to do in Japan in spring.
The weather during spring is ideal for hiking, as it’s neither too cold nor too hot. It is also before the rainy season so it’s not humid either. Furthermore, if you time it right, hiking during spring offers some spectacular sights where you can see the mountainsides colored pink due to the blooming sakura.
Just remember that the time-window for the blooming event depends on altitude so if you plan on hiking up a higher mountain, the sakura may not yet have bloomed.
When hiking longer distances, don’t forget to bring plenty of food/water, some good shoes, a charged phone and depending on the area, a kumayoke suzu (熊よけ鈴 bell to make sound and scare away bears).
To get you started, you can find some great hiking routes in Hakone, Nikko, Yudanaka (Nagano), Mt. Takao, and Arashiyama (Kyoto).
Read our article on the best places to experience mountains in Japan.
If you want to experience the traditional feeling of Japan with dancing, chanting and beating taiko drums, catching a matsuri (祭り, Japanese traditional festival) is our highest recommendation.
Spring is a time of love, fertility and new beginning. Consequently there are many matsuri which pay homage to the associated kami (神, Shinto deity). Below are some festivals associated with spring.
Kanda Matsuri (May)
Kanda Matsuri is one of the most famous festivals in Tokyo. They set off fireworks while singing and dancing, and parade over 200 portable shrines through the town of Kanda.
Aoi Matsuri (May)
For those interested in Japanese history, Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto is a must. With a tradition dating back all the way to the Heian Period (794-1185) it is one of the oldest traditional matsuri in Japan. Expect to see large crowds dress up in traditional Heian-era clothing and form a kilometer long line that goes through the city.
Kanamara Matsuri (April)
If you want to experience something rather eccentric and unique, you could also visit Kawasaki in early April and see the Kanamara matsuri. it is associated with praying for good fertility and where they carry a large shrine with the male genitalia across town.
Sanja Matsuri (May)
Asakusa is one of the most iconic temple areas in the Tokyo area and the associated Sanja Matsuri gathers huge crowds every year. As with most festivals there will be fireworks, dancing, lots of festival food and people dressed up in kimonos. Why not try renting a kimono and join the fun?
Cherry blossom viewing
If you are in Japan between the end of March to mid-April, we recommend visiting a park and having a picnic under the cherry blossom trees. The tradition of watching the sakura (桜, cherry blossom) and having a picnic is called hanami (花見, flower-viewing).
To make your picnic extra spectacular, why not prepare a bentō (弁当, lunch box), or buy some seasonal snacks to enjoy during your flower-viewing event.
We have compiled some lists of the best places to visit for cherry blossom viewing. If you want to know more about great places in Tokyo, click here. If you want to know about the best places nationwide, read more here.
During spring you will see supermarkets and convenience stores fill their line-ups with sakura flavored snacks. To give an example, it has become a custom to eat Kit Kat in Japan during spring, and they come in a multitude of flavors such as sakura, matcha or sake.
Other famous treats that come in sakura flavor are the Pocky, Milky Chocolate, and even potato chips from Chip Star. Seriously, you can find just about anything sakura-flavored during this season. Even carbonated drinks in the vending machines come with a touch of sakura. Is it tasty? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
One of the best treats to enjoy in spring is the wagashi (和菓子, Japanese sweets). There are lots of wagashi this time of the year. We recommend trying out the sakura manju, a steamed bun filled with sweet red bean paste and sakura leaves.
Or why not the sakura mochi, a rice cake filled with red bean paste and wrapped in sakura leaves. There is also the hanami dango, three colorful flavored balls of mochi on a skewer.
Finally, strawberries are also associated with spring in Japan and they are harvested during this season. It is popular to go on an ichigo-gari (いちご狩り, strawberry hunting) or buy them and enjoy them together with rennyū (練乳, condensed milk). If you are feeling wild, you may also want to try a so-called tenshi no ichigo (天使のいちご, angel strawberry). Although quite expensive this snow-white strawberry is a once-in-a-lifetime delicacy.
I hope that we have given you some sense of what you can do during spring in Japan. Feel free to comment below if you have other activities you recommend during this season!
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