Spring is quite possibly the most magical time, because with spring comes cherry blossom season in Japan.
For roughly a month, usually in the month of April, cherry blossom trees all throughout the country burst into a flurry of pale pink blossoms, raining down delicate petals every time the wind blows.
Known as sakura in Japanese, the blooming of these cherry trees are an unforgettable, quintessentially Japanese sight.
People throughout the nation love to gather under cherry blossom trees, celebrating this beautiful natural spectacle and welcoming the coming of warmer weather with parties known as hanami.
Many cities also host cherry blossom festivals that feature cultural events. If you’re traveling to Japan in late March or April, make sure you don’t miss these incredibly beautiful, cultural events!
Here, we’ll tell you how to make the most of cherry blossom in Japan.
What is a cherry blossom?
Cherry blossoms are the flowers of the cherry tree, of which there are several species and more than 600 varieties.
Along with the chrysanthemum, which symbolizes the imperial family, cherry blossoms are one of Japan’s national flowers.
In Japan, there are about 200 common varieties that either occur naturally or have been cultivated for ornamental purposes. Although most blooming cherry trees do not produce fruit, they produce a profusion of delicate flowers that range in color from snow white to bright magenta.
Sakura is more than just a pretty sight in Japan. Because they all bloom for just a short period at the same time every year, cherry blossoms have come to be deeply symbolic of impermanence, which is integral to Japanese culture.
Sakura are a metaphor for mortality, the cycle of life and death, and the beauty of fleeting things.
Viewing cherry blossoms in Japan can be a way to understand the culture and aesthetics of a poetic and deeply traditional nation.
When is cherry blossom season in Japan?
Cherry blossom in Japan occurs every year between late March and early May, depending on the region.
While first blooms can be seen in southern regions such as Nagasaki and Osaka in early March, they have historically tended to bloom later in regions farther north, such as Aomori in the northern reaches of Honshu and the northernmost island of Hokkaido.
Throughout the main island of Honshu, cherry blossom season usually lasts throughout the month of April. However, trends in recent years seem to show that cherry trees are blooming slightly earlier in the year, with many trees coming into full bloom in mid to late March.
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When do Cherry Blossom bloom? (2016 dates)
|LOCATIONS||2016 FIRST BLOOM||2016 FULL BLOOM|
|Okinawa||21 January||12 February|
|Ishigaki||12 February||02 March|
|Fukuoka||19 March||30 March|
|Nagoya||19 March||31 March|
|Tokyo||21 March||31 March|
|Nagasaki||22 March||30 March|
|Hiroshima||23 March||02 April|
|Kyoto||23 March||02 April|
|Osaka||23 March||01 April|
|Sendai||01 April||06 April|
|Niigata||03 April||07 April|
|Nagano||03 April||08 April|
|Yamagata||06 April||10 April|
|Hirosaki||17 April||21 April|
|Sapporo||25 April||01 May|
Source: Japan Meteorological Agency
Where are the best places to see cherry blossom in Japan?
In Kyoto, some favorite spots for hanami and taking strolls under the cherry trees are Arashiyama, the Philosopher’s Walk and Maruyama Park. Hirosaki Castle in Hirosaki is also considered one of the top three destinations for flower-viewing in Japan.
But, we would in no means encourage you to limiting yourself to just these options, as there are amazing spots for cherry blossom viewing all throughout the country.
If you’re planning to be in Osaka, head to Osaka Castle. Yoshino Mountain has also been a popular spot for centuries, and according to legend, the first cherry trees were planted on this mountain more than a thousand years ago.
If you want to know the best place for hanami in a particular prefecture or region, just ask our Travel Specialists.
Best Hanami spots in Japan on a map
How to plan a cherry blossom travel in Japan?
Cherry blossom season in Japan is peak tourist season, with both domestic and international travelers thronging to the most popular blossom-viewing destinations.
Because of this, you’ll have to get organized and book your stay far ahead of time to ensure you reservation for accommodations and transport.
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It’s not uncommon for people to book their cherry blossom travels a year or even two in advance!
To avoid crowds, we also recommend considering off-the-beaten-path cherry blossom viewing.
Traveling to lesser-known destinations can be just as beautiful, if not more so for being untouched and untrammeled. For example, a springtime journey through the Japanese Alps can be a breathtaking place for hanami.
Or, traveling to Japan’s various capital cities through the ages offers a sampling of different hanami experiences that won’t lock you into the crowds of Tokyo.
Our Travel Specialists can suggest temples located off the beaten path where you can avoid crowds and experience a temple stay, such as a tranquil stay at Mt. Koya.
Special tips to organize your cherry blossom travel
– Respect reserved spots for flower-viewing parties (hanami).
Locals often rise early and journey to popular parks to reserve their places under cherry trees with a picnic blanket. Later in the day, they’ll be joined by friends and family to sit under the blossoms for a tipple of sake and an al fresco lunch.
You can, of course, feel free to do the same and lay out your blanket as soon as the park opens. But do be careful of others’ reserved areas.
– Book early.
Each year, sakura season attracts droves—and we mean droves!—of domestic and international tourists to popular destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto.
As such, hotels fill up fast and rates triple during this time of year. So start planning early or contact us to help you secure early-bird rates and the best-located hotels.
What is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan?
Along with the revelry of hanami, cities all throughout Japan will host cherry blossom festivals that often feature music, dancing, sakura-flavored foods, beauty contests and cultural events.
Some unmissable festivals are the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, the Takayama Spring Festival, and the festival at Takata Castle Ruins in Nagano.
In general, however, the entire cherry blossom season lends itself to a festival atmosphere in Japan, and you’re likely to find nightly events, illuminated trees, street vendors, music and other fascinating happenings in most urban centers and historical neighborhoods.
You don’t have to go looking for a specific “festival” to find throngs of revelers and hanami-specific attractions and events.
Some other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about cherry blossom in Japan
What is Sakura?
Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom. It’s a symbol of Japanese culture and of the nation itself, as well as a symbol of impermanence.
What is Hanami?
Hanami is the Japanese term used for “cherry-blossom viewing.” Hanami can be a quiet, intimate affair, such as a contemplative stroll under the clouds of blossoms, or it can be a rowdy celebration with friends on a picnic blanket in the park, with sake, snacks and music.
Do cherry blossom in Japan turn into cherries?
No, most decorative cherry trees do not produce fruit.
Do cherry blossom trees have cherries on them?
There are no cherries involved in cherry blossom season. The celebration is for the trees blossoms, not the fruit. The vast majority of flowering cherry trees do not produce fruit.
Are cherry tree blossoms edible?
Although cherry blossoms wouldn’t constitute a food per say, they are in fact edible. In Japan, you’re bound to see all manner of sakura-infused and -inspired foods and treats, such as sakura mochi, sakura tea, and even sakura spirits.
What is the meaning of a cherry blossom tree?
In Japan, cherry blossom trees have come to symbolize a number of important concepts.
First and foremost, the sakura blossom is a national symbol of Japan.
Second, its short existence lived in a stunning burst of color has also made the blossoms symbolic of impermanence, and the bitter-sweet beauty of the ephemerality of all things.
Because of this, the sakura had important symbolic meaning during World War II, when young kamikaze soldiers painted sakura on their airplanes before embarking on a suicide mission. The sakura embodied the sacrifice of one’s life and youth for the good of the nation.
Have you experienced cherry blossom season in Japan? Do you have any pointers or tips? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!