Spring is in the air and you know what that means in the land of the rising sun – cherry blossoms!
Text Eris Choo
Japan takes sakura season very seriously, with dedicated programmes and forecasts, for when the buds first open to the best viewing times. One thing that both tourists and locals will agree on is that hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is an experience like no other. More than just being surrounded by beautiful blooms, hanami is a time for friends and family to get together and enjoy picnics, games and karaoke at public parks and spaces.
If you’re headed to Japan this spring, here are five of the best places to see sakura in bloom:
SHINJUKU GYOEN, TOKYO
Best time to view: March 28 to April 5
Considered one of the best hanami spots in Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen is a beautiful public park dating back to the Edo era. The name means ‘Imperial Garden’ – which was what it was designated as in the late 19th century. Today, the park is home to over 1,500 cherry blossom trees, making the scene a truly spectacular one to behold when they flower. The park itself is meticulously landscaped, with over 20,000 trees and plants, including towering cedar trees, tulips gracing the 58-hectare green space.
Best time to view: April 1 to April 9
Mount Fuji in the background, and a pagoda surrounded by a sea of cherry blossoms – an image that is stereotypically Japanese. While some locals or adventurers looking to experience ‘authentic’ Japan might tire of this cliche, Chuurei Tou makes for a great hanami site for tourists who want to snap photos for the gram, and just enjoy a slice of what Japan has to offer. Located in Shizuoka prefecture, the five-storey pagoda is part of a shrine with an adjacent park filled with cherry blossom trees. Another good time to visit is in autumn, when the petals change, carpeting the landscape in red and gold.
Maruyama Park, Kyoto
Best viewing times: April 2 to 10
Kyoto’s most popular spot for hanami is Maruyama Park, where groups gather in the evenings for ‘Yozakura’, or cherry blossom viewing at night. Lights are switched on until 1 AM, and the atmosphere is very lively as there are food stalls selling snacks and drinks, as well as seats and tables for visitors. The park’s main highlight is the close to a century old, 12-metre-tall weeping cherry tree, it’s majestic branches spreading to form a beautiful canopy laden with pink blooms.
Best viewing times : April 11 to 19
One of the best times to visit the charming old town of Takayama – known for its well-preserved historic district, traditional morning markets and quaint Edo-era villages – is during the Takayama Spring Festival from April 14 to 15. Not only are the cherry blossoms in full bloom along the Enakogawa River, visitors can also soak in the cultural sights such as the float parade. For a picturesque hanami spot, head to the old town’s iconic Nakabashi Bridge.
Daigoji Temple, Kyoto
Best viewing times: April 3 to 11
A testament to Daigoji Temple’s beauty in spring: one of Japan’s most famous feudal lords in the 16th century, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, would hold cherry blossom viewing parties on the temple grounds, which has over 1,000 cherry blossom trees. Visitors are literally taking a step back in time, as the view is almost identical to the one enjoyed by feudal lords, ladies and noblemen who lived hundreds of years ago.