The spring season marks a time of new beginnings in Japan, with both the new fiscal and school years starting in April. Spring is also the time when Japan’s much-anticipated cherry blossoms, or sakura, come into bloom. Japanese people gather in parks across the country for cherry blossom viewings, called hanami, in which they celebrate with food and drink, and sing songs about the cherry blossoms’ fleeting beauty. Usually flowering for one to two weeks, the cherry blossoms are a symbol of the fragile, brief beauty of life itself.
The cherry blossom front is carefully tracked as it moves across Japan from south to north, with news programs reporting on the regions where cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom. The flowers typically appear in Okinawa in January, peak in the central Honshu region in late March to April, and finally reach Hokkaido in May. Here are some of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in different parts of Japan.
Despite its status as an urban hub, Tokyo is home to a surprising number of pretty parks. With more than 1,000 cherry trees, Ueno Park is one of Tokyo’s most popular viewing locations. Ueno’s cherry blossoms are worth braving the crowds for, particularly at night, when the trees are illuminated by an ethereal light display. Home to dozens of tree varieties that reach full bloom at slightly different times, Shinjuku Gyoen is the perfect spot for those who miss the peak blossoming period by a week or two. Lining the Sumida River with views of the Tokyo Skytree in the background, Sumida Park in Asakusa is another cherry blossom viewing spot not to be missed in Tokyo.
As the cherry blossoms fade from Japan’s more southern regions, they are only just beginning to reach Japan’s cooler, northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido, around early to mid May. The cherry blossoms season lasts for nearly a month in Matsumae Park, where the different cherry tree species reach their peaks at various times. Once a military citadel built by Tokugawa shogunate, star-shaped Goryakaku Fort in Hakodate is now one of Hokkaido’s most popular cherry blossom viewing spots. Lastly, spacious Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine is the best place in Sapporo to lay out mats and open a bottle of sake.
The Motobu Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival in Sakura-no-Mori Park, which takes place in January, is known as Japan’s earliest cherry blossom festival. Another popular time to see cherry blossoms in Japan’s southernmost prefecture is at the Sakura Matsuri cherry blossom festival, which runs from February 12-16 in Okinawa’s capital, Naha. Nago Castle, located in the centre of Okinawa’s main island, is one of the first places that the cherry blossoms appear each year. The blossoms compliment the lovely views of Nago City and the East China Sea, which can be seen from the ruins’ observation platform.
Sakura Outside Japan
If you can’t make it to Japan for cherry blossom season, Taiwan also has a number of popular locations for viewing these delicate pink flowers. Once a Japanese colony, Taiwan’s cherry blossoms originally came from Japan and bloom during a similar time, from February to April each year. Some popular cherry blossom viewing locations in Taiwan include Wulai in New Taipei City, Yangmingshan National Park in Taipei City, as well as Alishan Forest Recreation Area in Chiayi County. Like in Japan, the cherry blossoms are celebrated in Taiwan with festivals and traditional foods.