When you think, “Japan”, do you think “natural beauty”? If so, there could be many reasons why. Maybe you’ve seen photos of snow-capped Mount Fuji, beautiful bamboo forests, or a “Japanese blossom tree” of some kind. If you’ve ever wondered what the last one was, lovely with its surreal pink flowers, you were most likely looking at the sakura, or Japanese cherry blossom. Though Japan has many attractions that draw travelers from every corner of the world, perhaps none is as unique as the sakura.
If you’ve ever seen any of the “plum family” of trees in bloom in an orchard or botanical garden (plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and yes, cherries!), you know their delicate, graceful appearance in the spring. The cherry blossom flower on the sakura trees are renowned for this unmistakable look, and are part of Japan’s high reverence for the world of nature, both wild and in the built environment.
Japan has a strong national affinity for nature in the forms of gardens and landscapes, as well as stunning national and city parks. Woven into deep traditions like the enduring Shinto nature spirituality and shinrin-yoku “forest bathing” contemplative hiking, Japan’s love for visual natural beauty bursts forth every year in the most undeniable of ways: the blooming of the sakura blossoms on the Japanese cherry blossom tree. These sites draw locals and world travelers alike every year for hanami, the viewing of these gorgeous flowering trees in parks across the country.
The Japan cherry blossom tradition has included the planting of untold numbers of sakura at over 600 sites all over the country. About the same size as California, Japan is a nation where nature connection is vital and integrated throughout its archipelago of four main volcanic islands: Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu and Hokkaido.
From lovely deciduous forests to snow-capped Mount Fuji, taking in nature’s beauty through the changing of the seasons is a celebrated way of life in Japan. The hanami of the spring draws untold throngs of adoring viewers as the over 200 varieties of ornamental cherry trees bloom in pink and white, painting the already fascinating parklands into a dreamscape of flowers! Symbolic of rebirth with their fleeting, delicate beauty and meaning “to smile” or “laugh”, the blossoming of the sakura flower is an immersion in the pure joy of Japan.
The question “when do cherry blossoms bloom in Japan?” can be answered “It depends on where you are”! Blooming typically begins in early February in Okinawa in the south, and ends around the middle to end of May in Hokkaido in the north. Variations in seasonal patterns have made some of the bloom season harder to predict in recent years, however! The bloom has been starting a bit earlier in the last two years, in particular.
Subtleties in weather affect when the peak of the bloom (called mankai) will occur, so it’s best to start planningJapan tours well ahead of spring. Planning your travel anywhere from 1 year to 6 months in advance for the cherry blossom season is the way to go.
Weather in Japan around the spring sakura season of February - May is typically mild and pleasant, with spring-like conditions. Central Japan’s coastal climate resembles that of coastal North Carolina or Virginia, and having multiple layers, including a light windbreaker/rain jacket, is a good idea. Japan’s weather makes its shift from cooler to warmer in central areas like Tokyo in April, when mornings and evenings can still be chilly and the odd rain shower is still a possibility.
Thehanami is deeply beloved by both travelers and those living in Japan, so know that you will find both peace and quiet in some of the less traveled sites, as well as festive crowds at some of the favorites! Relishing in the beauty with Japanese families and groups of friends can be a highlight of the sakura experience.
On the main island of Honshu, Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen is a flexible hanami spot, home to both late and early blooming trees. Kyoto offers the famous Philosopher’s Walk, a 2km tunnel through the sakura that is absolutely magical! These two areas usually see mankai peak bloom in late March/early April, and are very lively at this time. Kanazawa, another great region on Honshu, features Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenrokuen Garden, two top-tier spots. Many other sites are available in these regions, as well as Hakone, Osaka, Hiroshima and more.
Along with awesome sites to view the sakura are scores of festivals. The very best cherry blossom festival Japan has to offer is subject to some debate, as there are so many. A bit of research can yield which festival would fit best with the itinerary you have in mind.
Shikoku, Kyusha, and Hokkaido islands also have prime spots for enjoying hanami, so don’t rule them out!
Seeing the sakura blossom on the Japanese cherry tree is nothing short of spectacular, and is worth a trip to Japan in and of itself. Southeast Asia is replete with amazing things to do, but the cherry blossom Japan has to offer is unlike any other. Like visiting a ryokan guest house or onsen thermal baths, the hanami can be among the most special of experiences unique to Japan. Contact our Travel Specialists to start planning your enchanting adventure in Japan today!