Go big, small (or secret) to witness the ephemeral beauty of cherry blossom season in Japan.
Their fleeting beauty has been celebrated with lavish parties and poetry for more than 1000 years and the tradition continues today when cherry blossoms (sakura) burst into bloom in locations across Japan. If you’re planning a trip to see this exquisite yet slightly unpredictable phenomenon, the trick is in the timing and finding ways to escape the crowds. From views of Mt Fuji framed by pink petals to raucous revelry beneath the blossoms in Tokyo’s parks, here’s how to have a super-charged sakura experience.
Cherry blossoms in Tokyo
This is the big one, with more than 1000 cherry trees and a party that continues all day and night across 53 hectares of parklands criss-crossed by pathways. Ueno’s wide central avenue leads to the Tokyo National Museum and is the busiest as it’s lined on both sides with spectacular cherry blossoms. Book a window table at Ueno Seiyoken, which has two eateries with petal filled panoramas.
Blooming trees stand on the banks of the narrow Meguro River in the hip Nakameguro neighbourhood. Aim to arrive at sunset when lanterns are lit and the whole gorgeous scene is reflected on the water below. For the best chance of beating the crowds, go early on a weekday morning.
A world away from the skyscrapers of Shinjuku’s business district, Shinjuku Gyoen is an expansive park with about 1000 cherry trees of various kinds that flower at different times, giving you a longer window to catch the springtime display.
Tokyo Edition, Toranomon
Book a room at this luxury boutique hotel that overlooks Tokyo Tower for glimpses of Shiba Park in bloom at the tower’s base. Nearby Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai, an elegant tofu restaurant inside a converted sake brewery, has private dining rooms surrounding a garden dotted with cherry trees.
Cherry blossoms in Osaka
Near the centre of the city, this landmark is encircled by parklands where the floss pink of about 3000 cherry trees contrasts with the soft green of the castle’s copper roofs. Seeing drifts of blooms trailing over the moats will transport you to another era, while Nishinomaru Garden, within the grounds, affords painterly perspectives of the citadel wreathed in flowers.
At this green space to the south of the CBD the season’s most glorious trees are spread out so it doesn’t feel crowded, plus there are two large ponds and a traditional Japanese garden for the classic snap. A cluster of weeping cherry varieties on the south-west side of the park usually flower until mid-April.
Kema Sakuranomiya Park
The sight of thousands of fairy-floss trees along a four-kilometre stretch of the Okawa River is unforgettable – from land or on a river cruise. Food stalls set up to celebrate the display sell Osaka’s famous street food, such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki, for any impromptu picnics.
Hotel New Otani Osaka
The city has a huge selection of modern and boutique hotels but the Hotel New Otani Osaka, with its chic Japanese or Western-style rooms, is right in front of Osaka Castle. Ask for a room with a view of the castle to see it encircled by clouds of cherry flowers and illuminated after dark.
Cherry blossoms in Kyoto
The city’s sakura hub is a scene at night when the towering weeping cherry tree at its heart is encircled with lights and the normally earnest locals let their hair down. Benches are set up beneath the branches, food stalls serve snacks and ice-cold sake and geishas and maikos stroll by in beautiful silk kimonos.
The Philosopher’s Path
Flanked by cherry trees that dip over a canal, this two-kilometre walkway winds through the Higashiyama district between the Ginkakuji temple and Nanzenji neighbourhood. Go early in the morning before nearby restaurants open so you can savour a moment alone.
The gardens and grounds of the World Heritage-listed Daigoji Temple were the site of Kyoto’s original blossom party when feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyosh planted 700 cherry trees for guests of the court in 1598; today there are more than 1000. On the second Sunday in April, a parade is held to honour Hideyoshi’s largesse.
This luxury 114-room property in the city’s north has its own onsen-thermal pool and is surrounded by traditional strolling gardens and teahouses. Plus, there are stunning cherry trees right on your doorstep.
SEE ALSO: How to Make the Most of a Visit to Kyoto
The insider’s list...
Blossom trees embellish the many parks in this vibrant port city, less than an hour south of central Tokyo. Take the bus from Negishi Station to Sankeien Garden, created in the early 20th century by a wealthy silk merchant as a private escape. The prime outlook is from the central pond, where flowers frame a 15th-century wooden pagoda.
The InterContinental Yokohama Pier 8 is a modern urban oasis inspired by the city’s maritime heritage. Private cruises and a rooftop lounge overlooking the harbour are available exclusively to in-house guests.
Nara Park, where friendly free-roaming deer graze, provides an irresistible photo opportunity but for scenery straight out of a samurai movie, visit the ruins of Koriyama Castle. Around 20 minutes by train from Nara, the castle’s moat is fringed in pale petals that soften the dark wood and stone of the turrets behind. On a weekday, you’re likely to have the place pretty much to yourself.
For easy access to both Nara Park and Koriyama Castle, check in at JW Marriott Hotel Nara. The high-end property combines contemporary design with traditional touches and is one of the few hotels in Nara with an indoor swimming pool.
It’s just 10 minutes by train from Kyoto and home to the country’s biggest lake, yet the tranquil prefecture of Shiga is almost unknown outside of Japan. Lake Biwa covers 670 square kilometres, with beaches and cycle paths along its shoreline. The four-kilometre Kaizu Osaki stretch is planted with hundreds of cherry trees that lean down and touch the water.
A shukubo or temple lodging is an authentic way to experience Japan’s unique culture and traditions. Waqoo Miidera on Lake Biwa offers private quarters, meditation and tours of an art collection along with 24-hour access to the temple’s own cherry blossom display.
In the northern prefecture of Akita, Kakunodate is a charming town that was once home to 80 samurai families. Stroll the wide streets lined with the families’ grand villas and gardens, many of which are planted with weeping cherry trees. Nearby, the Hinokinai River is lined with trees that form a passage of blooms.
Feel the spirit of Kakunodate’s past by staying in an original stone storehouse or kura. Wanoi Kakunodate has restored two kura as well as a former fabric store in the heart of the historic district and each self-contained property is decorated with local artefacts.