A Beginners Guide to Cherry Blossom Season in Japan

Japan's cherry blossom season is world-renowned and much loved. How to prepare and where to find the best spots - all right here!

 

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr cc

Hana translates to “cherry blossoms” and Hanami to “cherry blossom viewing” – the highlight of the Japanese springtime. This tradition dates back centuries and has become a great signifier of spring in Japan. The cherry blossoms’ fleeting beauty, for Japanese people, represents life itself and how quickly it passes us by. During Hanami season, all of Japan gathers in local parks and picnics under the trees with delicious food and a glass of sake. It’s one of the most popular celebrations in Japan and if you find yourself in Japan during the season, it should not be missed. Have a look at our guide to preparing for and enjoying the cherry blossoms.  

How to Prepare

Photo Credit:Guilhem Vellut via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Guilhem Vellut via Flickr cc

Get there early

With popular parks, it is a common practice for people to reserve a picnic spot ahead of time. Often, one person will be given the job of picking a spot and guarding it until the rest of the party arrives. If you want a good spot, you should think about doing the same.  

What to bring

Firstly, you need to bring a plastic blanket or tarp to sit on. These can usually be found in discount stores like Don Quijote. Whilst you’re there, you can also purchase plastic cups, chopsticks, cups and anything else that might come in handy. 

Hanami food

Hanami bento is also a common sight at Hanami parties. These lunch boxes are normally packed with sushi rolls, fish cakes and other small food items. The most popular Hanami dessert is wagashi – a rice cake wrapped in a cherry blossom leaf. Many retailers also release limited edition Hanami foods – often pink – which are a great novelty. 

Remember your manners

Manners and (often unspoken) rules are extremely important in Japan and Hanami is no exception. Rules, however, do differ between parks. Some have alcohol restrictions, others have curfews and some don’t even allow picnics. Have a look at the park website if you want the official advice or simply have a look around you once you get there and do as the Japanese do. Once you get there, remember to take off your shoes before you step onto the picnic, dispose of garbage properly and, most importantly, don’t pull off the cherry blossoms from their branches. 

Dates 

The dates in which the cherry blossoms are in bloom varies between different parts of Japan. Beginning in Okinawa as early as January or February, the blooming reaches Tokyo around March or April. In the North, the cherry blossom season can end as late as May. In Japan, these dates are carefully tracked and announced on the weather segments of the news, so keep your eyes and ears peeled! 

Popular Cherry Blossom Viewing Spots

1) Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo

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Photo Credit: solution_63 via Flickr cc

Shinjuku Gyoen is considered to have the most beautiful cherry blossoms in all of Tokyo. The flowers also seem to last the longest in comparison to the other parks in Tokyo and with an impressive one thousand trees, there is plenty of room for everyone. However, a blanket ban on alcohol means it is one of the more family-friendly Hanami venues. 

Opening hours: 9am to 4pm

Website: Shinjuku Gyoen

Location:  11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku, Tokyo

 

2) Himeji Castle, Hokkaido 

Photo Credit: cotaro70s via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: cotaro70s via Flickr cc

Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites. During Hanami season, you will see the site in its full glory, the pink flowers complimenting the white castle walls beautifully. The castle has undergone significant restoration in recent years and has become one of Hokkaido’s most popular sites especially during Hanami season. 

Opening hours: 9am to 4pm

Website:  Himeji castle

Location:  68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo

 

3) Mount Fuji

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Photo Credit: Ludovic Lubeigt via Flickr cc

Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s most iconic symbols, recognisable around the world. With the arrival of the cherry blossoms, the sight of this beautiful mountain makes it all the better. From Fuji Five Lakes, enjoy the magnificent volcano framed by the equally iconic cherry blossom flowers. 

Opening hours: all hours

Website: Mount Fuji website

Location: Kitayama, Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture 418-0112

 

 

4) Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

Photo credit: kimubert via Flickr cc

Photo credit: kimubert via Flickr cc

Nishida Kitaro, a renowned Japanese philosopher, used to wander this path as he was meditating, hence the name. Leading to several shrines and temples, the two-kilometer route is lined with cherry blossom trees and when spring appears you are greeted with plenty of pink flowers to enjoy. 

Opening hours: 9pm to 4pm

Website: Philosopher’s path

Location: Sakyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu

 

5) Hirosaki Castle

Photo Credit: Richie Jones via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Richie Jones via Flickr cc

Every year, Hirosaki Castle holds a cherry blossom festival, turning the whole area pink and full of light. Considered one of the most beautiful cherry blossom sites in Japan, it draws in thousands of Hanami revellers each year. 

Opening hours: 9pm to 4pm

Website: Hirosaki Castle

Location: 1 Shimoshiroganechō, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori-ken

 

6) Nagoya Castle

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Photo Credit: Paul Davidson via Flickr cc

The Second World War inflicted untold damage on many Japanese castles, not least Nagoya Castle. However, after extensive and loving reconstruction, the castle has once again become a wonderful city landmark and a tourist favourite. The surrounding park is a very popular place for Hanami picnics but is lovely throughout the year. 

Opening hours: 9pm to 4pm

Website: Nagoya castle

Location: 1-1 Honmaru, Naka-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi-ken

 

7) Nara Park

Photo Credit: fortherock via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: fortherock via Flickr cc

Nara is renowned for its majestic free-roaming deer. Enjoy these tame animals and the cherry blossoms at the same time in Nara Park. Stock up on the usual Hanami picnic favourites but don’t forget the deer crackers!

Opening hours: 24 hours

Website: Nara Park 

Location: Zoshicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture

 

8) Japan Mint, Osaka

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Photo Credit: lasta29 via Flickr cc

The Osaka Japan Mint is closed for most of the year to the public, however, once the cherry blossom season comes around the gates are swung open for all to enjoy the spectacularly blooming flowers. The blossoms here tend to last longer than anywhere else in the area, so late-comers, head here. 

Opening hours: 24 hours

Website: Japan Mint Osaka

Location: Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Kita-ku, Tenma

 

9) Fukuoka Castle 

Photo Credit: Hiromichi Torihara via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Hiromichi Torihara via Flickr cc

During Hanami season, the area surrounding Fukuoka Castle is brimming with blossoming cherry trees. Lining the paths that crisscross the area, sit yourself down under one of the 1,000 trees with your picnic and tipple of choice. 

Opening hours: 24 hours

Website: Fukuoka Castle

LocationFukuoka-ken, Fukuoka-shi, Chūō-ku, Jōnai

 

10) Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr cc

Famous for its raucous atmosphere and anything goes vibe, it’s is not uncommon to see people drinking to the early hours of the morning any time of the year, not least during cherry blossom season. Home to 600 cherry blossom trees, find your spot, crack open the sake and soak up the good times. A short walk from Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line, it couldn’t be easier to find as well. 

Opening hours: 24 hours

Website: Yoyogi park website

Location: 2-1 Yoyogikamizonochō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō

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Khadiju Ali

Khadiju Ali

Avid traveller, lover of spicy food and anything related to David Tennant



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