In Japan it is known as hanami: the tradition of enjoying the fleeting beauty of pink flowers, especially the spring blossoms of the sakura (cherry trees). It’s a custom that dates back many centuries in Japan and rightfully holds a spot on bucket lists around the world. A delight that relies on successfully anticipating the whims of nature, our expert tips will ensure you can make the most of this enchanting spectacle.
Japan is a long, narrow chain of islands that stretches roughly 3,000 kilometres from north to south. This geographical layout means a great variance in the timing of spring’s arrival, which is the best time for cherry blossom viewing. This is further complicated by the different varieties of sakura that grow throughout the country and by the weather in any given year.
As such, the optimal date for hanami varies, but as a general rule, the blossom season in Okinawa begins as early as January. In northern Japan, the island of Hokkaido is more likely to be in bloom in early May. As a general rule, peak hanami season falls between late March and early April.
There are literally thousands of locations throughout Japan in which to view this fairy floss spectacle – from the city parks of Tokyo and Kyoto to the sensational setting of Yoshino, where around 30,000 trees adorn the surrounding slopes of the Kii Mountains.
One of our favourite spots is Fuji Five Lakes: in addition to Mt Fuji providing a stunning backdrop to your hanami experience, the region is also known for its onsen (hot springs) in which you can spend the entire day soaking while gazing up at a canopy of blossoms. Special mention must also go to the town of Miharu, whose cherry, plum and peach trees all flower at the same time and which is home to Takizakura, the “waterfall cherry tree”, which is more than a thousand years old.
Hanami is an experience that can (and is) enjoyed by people of all ages – it is truly an intergenerational delight and a highly social affair. If you’re taking the kids, head for the Arashiyama district to ride the Sagano Scenic Railway – a 25-minute journey that follows the Hozukyo Ravine and travels through a tunnel of cherry trees.
Matsumae Park in Hokkaido is quite possibly the most romantic hanami setting you could imagine: with 250 varieties and 8,000 trees in the grounds of Japan’s northernmost castle, the scene becomes even more enchanting as evening falls and the white walls of the castle are lit up.
Hanami can be enjoyed at any time of day, but the evenings are the best time for a truly authentic experience. As darkness falls, the parks come to life when people of all ages arrive en masse, loaded with strawberries and sushi, picnic rugs and pink, sakura-themed snacks. Lights and lanterns are strung beneath the branches to illuminate the blossoms while live music and snack stalls add to the vibrant, festival atmosphere.
It’s an incredibly social affair, so don’t be surprised if you’re invited to join your neighbours for a celebratory sake or two.
Hanami is a farewell to winter, a celebration of spring’s arrival, and a symbol of renewal and hope. Flower viewing parties have been held in Japan since at least the 8th century, and form an integral part of its literary, artistic and cultural landscape. It may cost you a little more to visit Japan at this time of year, but it’s a truly remarkable experience that’s made all the more exceptional by its ephemeral nature.
Cherry blossom season is one of the busiest (and most expensive) times of year for a trip to Japan, so it’s worth planning well ahead to ensure the best possible value for money.
Talk to your personal travel manager about planning an unforgettable trip to Japan during cherry blossom season.