Every year, Japan’s gardens, trees and parks turn from a glorious green of jade to the soft pink of a blushing bride. That’s right, the cherry blossoms are ready to bloom, bringing with it the promise of a fresh start. Heralding the season of Spring. Joining families and communities together, as they come together to view the flowers.
For over 1,000 years, the Japanese have celebrated and loved these flowers that bless their lives for a few weeks, before fading away. It’s a short romance – filled with poetry, petals and perfection. However, like any affair of the heart, the pure beauty of cherry blossoms in Japan will stay with you for a lifetime. So, if you’re undecided about where you should go, let us lay down a pink trail of petals for you to follow to Japan. Ready?
The philosophy of the petal
The Japanese are deeply reverential of these blossoms (known as Sakura in Japan). Why, though? Flowers do come and go, based on the seasons. However, the cherry blossom has dug its roots deeply into Japanese culture, philosophy, poetry and even their calendars. For one, it symbolises that Spring has come to Japan – meaning a time of renewal, of freshness and new beginnings. Secondly, they signify the passing of time. Cherry blossoms live short, but vibrant lives, reminding many Japanese locals to live fully and beautifully in the moment. It’s a time of togetherness – bringing families, friends, co-workers, partners and communities together. These flowers are also scattered across the pages of history – ancient rice farmers in Japan would use the blossoming of the Sakura as an indicator to plant their crops. Blossom viewing first started in the Nara period (710-794) and the first viewing parties were thrown by Emperor Saga in the Heian period (794-1185).
Like we mentioned earlier, cherry blossoms bloom quickly, beautiful and then wilt. There are short windows of time, where you can view them in their full glory. You could opt for the earlier stage, known as ‘kaika’ (the blooming of flowers) or the latter known ‘mankai’ (full bloom and blossom). The forecast for the coming year will be released in January, however, there are some broad guidelines for the cherry blossom calendar.
Although cherry blossoms tend to bloom their brightest in March or early April, if you’ve booked your tickets for February don’t worry – you can still catch a few early blossoms in Tokyo (either in Kawazu or Atami).
In the colder regions of Northern Japan, cherry blossom season starts after the rest of the country (for all you latecomers), so look at areas like Aomori, Hokkaido, Sapporo and Hakodate for cherry blossom viewings in late April or May.
If you’re passionate about viewing these petals, there are several forecast apps, cherry blossom calendars and official sites to visit, which can provide you with data on where and when the cherry blossoms will fall. The research will be worth it!
Spotting the Sakura – Best Places to View Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Cherry blossoms may be fleeting in their time, but they’re generous in their numbers. These flowers bloom across Japan, and there are many places you can spot these blossoms. Here are some of the best places to spot cherry blossoms on your trip to Japan.
Himeji Castle – A four-hour train ride from Tokyo will bring you to the doors of the Himeji Castle. This gorgeous palace – said to resemble a heron in flight – is surrounded by sweet pink cherry blossoms. You can view them at its free Senhimebotanen Garden and the paid Nishnomaru grounds.
Mount Yoshino – Imagine a carpet of pink blooms spreading all over the slope of a mountain. Or you don’t have to. You can just visit Mount Yoshino in the Nara Prefecture, where the trees planted are more than 1,300 years old and 30,000 in number.
Hirosaki Castle – The three-story Hirosaki castle and its grounds are beautiful on their own – but add those little drops of pink to the landscape and it’s elevated to a whole new level. More than 2,600 trees add their blush to picnic areas, moats, walls and gardens of the palace.
Lake Kawaguchiko – If you could apply postcard perfection to life, it would be at Lake Kawaguchiko during cherry blossom season. Think of blue skies, a shimmering lake, the grand, snow topped Mt. Fuji in the background and the swirl of pink petals – it’s heart-breaking in the best way possible.
Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosopher’s path) – Part of the cherry blossom viewing experience is to just take in their simple, ephemeral beauty and ruminate on life. What better place to do that than the Philosopher’s path? A stone walkway, following the Lake Biwa Canal, fringed by the hanging boughs of cherry blossoms. You can stroll, meditate or just listen to the gurgle of water, the rustle of the flowers and your own breath.
Kakunodate (Akita) – Once a district that housed over 80 samurai families, Kakunodate boasts of broad streets, wide open courtyards – all shaded by the sweep of large cherry blossom trees. Legend has it that these weeping trees were planted by samurais, who were looking to outshine the other.
Kyoto Botanical Garden – A short walk from Kitayama Station, the Kyoto Botanical Garden is a visual feast for the eyes and is also the perfect spot for a hanami feast with your friends. Perfect for photography, these cherry blossoms must be memorialised in the mind and on your camera.
Maruyama Park – Cherry blossoms can be sweet, but they’re also a dramatic sight. Look no further than the massive Shidarezakura (Weeping Cherry) in the park, with cherry blossoms tumbling, sweeping and weeping from its branches.
Ueno Park – Japan certainly has its slick, stylish and cosmopolitan side. However pretty parks and serene gardens soften that image, adding their lush beauty to the cities. Ueno Park – with over 1,000 cherry blossom trees, museums, shrines and ponds is another side of the bustling, modern city of Tokyo.
Bring your heart to Hanami – Viewing Parties
The best way to celebrate and view these gorgeous cherry blossoms is to participate in a Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party. Grab a blanket, a picnic basket full of food and your closest friends, families or colleagues, sit under the blossoming trees and dancing petals and sing, chat, eat or just admire the spectacle in silence. (Note, do make sure you reach your spot early as everyone wants the best seats to view the flowers. Things can get crowded and competitive!). You can also enjoy a variety of different sakura-themed products in the shape, flavour, colour and scent of cherry blossoms. You can shop for clothing decorated with sakura prints or enjoy food in the shape of the blossom.
At Thomas Cook, we understand that holidays are a break from the routine. They’re a chance to experience something different, a period to reflect on life, an opportunity to dive deep into an experience, to start afresh.
So, we’ve created our holiday packages to reflect all of that and more. Curating vacations and moments around spectacular experiences like the sakura season in Japan. Check out our exclusive cherry blossom packages, filled with exciting experiences in Japan, as well as South Korea and China. Visit our website and start planning your sojourn with the scintillating sakura blossoms of Japan.