The Japanese cherry blossom – known as Sakura - is one of the biggest drivers of tourists to the country. Before the pandemic restrictions around 8.5 million people headed for the Land of the Rising Sun to enjoy this spectacular natural wonder.
The season itself can last from as early as February through to May, but don’t expect it to be visible in the same location for all that time. It very much depends upon where in Japan you are. The cherry blossom works its way up from the south as the temperatures start to increase.
Southern cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto will enjoy Sakura from the end of March through to early April. Whilst more northerly locations like Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido, will see the blossom much later from late April into May.
If you plan your trip correctly, you could end up experiencing the cherry blossoms multiple times if you start in the south and work your way northward.
If you were to stay in one location to view the cherry blossom then you can probably expect them to last around 2 weeks. The peak of the bloom however is only 2 or 3 days so planning your trip well for the place you want to see them is key, as is some flexibility to ensure that you can see them at their very best.
During Sakura there are literally thousands of options of where to go, so picking the best one isn’t an easy choice. Narrowing it down is very tough but we’ve compiled our top 5 picks for hanami regardless of where in Japan you find yourself.
Matsuyama Castle on the southern island of Shikoku offers fantastic views of the city from the castle tower and the hundreds of cherry trees that are planted within the grounds. A great spot to see nature and city come together.
Best time to visit: Late March to Early April
As you would expect Tokyo is home to a number of wonderful places to enjoy the cherry blossom, but Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the best and that’s because of the variety of cherry trees which mean that it has a longer blooming period than other areas where there are fewer species of tree. Blooms can be seen in some varieties as early as February, whilst others reveal their blossom in late April. The park is normally much quieter than other hanami destinations due to a small entrance fee but with smoking and alcohol banned it does make for a calm and serene atmosphere.
Best time to visit: Early to Mid-April
Situated on the southern side of Honshu, about 60 minutes from Osaka, Mount Yoshino is Japan’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spot for many centuries and is home to 30,000 cherry trees. This UNESCO world heritage site is a stunning place to enjoy Sakura is the many ancient temples and winding walking routes that allows you to find secluded spots to relax and enjoy.
Best time to visit: Early to Mid-April
Located on the south coast of Japan’s main island Honshu. It is perhaps one fo the best places to photograph the cherry blossom given the beauty of the pagoda itself but furthermore it has amazing views of Mt Fuji. For those very keen photographers early morning presents the best lighting to capture the pagoda rising through the cherry blossoms and then presents you with the perfect opportunity to while away the rest of the day to enjoy this beautiful landscape.
Best time to visit: Mid-April
Situated near to the city of Aomori in northern Honshu, it is widely conserved to be one of the best cherry blossom locations in the country, so much so that over 1 million people head here to experience the Sakura in all its glory. Hirosaki Castle park is home to over 2,500 cherry trees and the 400 year old Hirosaki Castle where you can rent boats and experience the cherry blossom from the moat. With the trees lit up at night, this is a fantastic place to visit for yozakura.
Best time to visit: Early May
It was only in late 2022 that Japan re-opened its border to individual travellers after the Covid-19 pandemic, so you can expect this Sakura to be particularly busy as international tourists pay a visit.
If you are triple vaccinated against Covid then you can now enter Japan without needing to do a PCR test prior to travel. If you are not triple vaccinated – or have had Covid-19 in the past year then a negative test is needed within 72 hours of your flight departing.
Check the full details on the FCDO website for Japan travel advice.
Sakura flowers don’t just bring the start of Spring, but also a rich cultural history for Japan. Its huge popularity sees events, festivals and activites across the country as Sakura season moves from south to north.
Whilst the cherry blossom has a huge economic impact for Japan with the number of tourists being attracted to the parks and gardens, the significance to the country and its people goes far beyond money.
The custom of hanami – viewing and celebrating day or night beneath the cherry blossom - is said to date back over 1,200 years to the Nara period (710 – 794) and originally came to be a ritual to ensure a good harvest and to predict the year’s planting season.
The importance of the cherry blossom is exemplified by it being the national flower of Japan and symbolises optimism, hope and renewal.
Due to the blossom being in bloom for around 10-14 days, it is also a reminder of mortality in Japanese culture reminding people that life is both short and precious.
Sakura signifies the beginning of Spring, the act of celebrating the festival is known as hanami – which translates to ‘viewing of the flowers’ – and it involves gathering under blooming cherry blossoms to eat food, drink, sing songs and spend time with friends and family whilst enjoying the cherry blossom.
With cherry blossom season events being so popular with both tourists and Japanese population you’ll want to do some element of advanced planning to make sure you enjoy the experience.
Whilst most places will allow hanami that may not be the case everywhere so make sure that you check in advance so you’re not disappointed. If you’re planning a bigger get together then make sure you choose an obvious meeting place, particularly if you’re heading for the larger festivals or most popular hanami locations.
If you are planning to head to the more popular locations then go early to make sure that you give yourself the best chance of getting a good spot.
Experiencing hanami at night is known as yozakura - if you have time it is well worth doing. Naturally it’ll be quieter and give you a whole different experience than the bustling locations in day time. If this is something you with to take in, then wrap up warm. As the cherry blossom signals the start of Spring it can get cold after the sun goes down.
Respect the rules
Japan is a nation with a number of customs and traditions. As such, responsible tourists should check, understand and follow the rules. These include:
Treating the trees carefully – don’t pick or break off branches and ensure that you avoid damaging the tree roots either.
Cleaning up after yourself, in some cases this means taking your rubbish home with you so come prepared and leave your hanami spot the way you found it.
Don’t go overboard! Hanami is a celebration so it has an upbeat feel, but don’t be that disruptive tourist.
Whilst Japan is probably the most famous destination for cherry blossom, it is not the only place that you can experience the beauty.
Other Asian countries with Sakura are China, South Korea, Myanmar, Taiwan and Thailand.
It is possible to see and enjoy the cherry blossom in the UK and across northern and central Europe, including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden.
You’d also be able to enjoy cherry blossom season in some unusual destinations including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and even Brazil.
Regardless of where you are heading to, you should consider having travel insurance in place to protect you against unforeseen issues whilst you’re away.
Travel insurance can help cover you for emergency medical expenses as well as flight delays and cancellations, lost luggage and stolen belongings along with much more.