The days of fluffy rain are slowly coming to an end in the land of sushi, which means one thing, drunken parties in the park. These drunken park parties are more commonly known as Hanami and coincide with the blooming of the second most magical thing in Japan, cherry blossoms. Being a certified Japan expert, and having spent a total of one spring in Japan, I feel I am exceptionally qualified to give you all the insider hints as to the best cherry blossoms spots (how to see them and how to partake in a bit of public drinking). However, I’ve unfortunately only been qualified as a certified expert in the areas of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji and Takasago. I wasn’t interested in taking the elective of Tokyo, so I only have information for there from google, which I trust you all know how to use. However ,despite from my lack of education in all areas of Japan, I do know about the best areas of Japan, so let’s jump right into Melissa’s Guide to Cherry Blossoms.
When to see them?
Cherry blossoms are fickle things. They bloom when they feel the weather is right and they are only truly beautiful for the few days where all the blossoms are all open and before the new leaves come through. So, they’re pretty much me on the days I don’t need to look good or go anywhere. When the petals are fully open it’s known as full bloom, not dissimilar to the “glow up” I haven’t yet experienced, but enough about me. Last year full bloom occurred on the 8th to the 11th of April, in Osaka, Himeji and Kyoto.
However, because Japan has remarkably different temperatures from Okinawa to Hokkaido, if you miss full bloom in one place, you can normally travel further north to catch it in a different place. The best way to determine approximately when the cherry’s will be in full bloom in your area is to check out a forecast map.
In my opinion the best chance for viewing cherry blossoms (in the major tourist destinations), is to travel to Japan the last week of March, and the first and second week of April. But a word of caution, Japanese people have a weird obsession with flowers as well so not only will the tourist destinations be packed with foreigners hoping to catch a glimpse of pink magic, the Japanese will flock to these areas too. Therefore, travel in this time can get expensive and accommodation can sometimes be hard to come by.
Where to see them?
Kyoto is beautiful anytime of the year, but is even more so during cherry season. Probably because it seems every second tree in Kyoto is a different species of Sakura (Japanese for cherry blossom). I attempted two trips to Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms, once at the start of the season, and once at the end. Although I didn’t get to see full bloom here, this is my suggested route for the best places to go to see full bloom, if you’re a little better at timing than me that is…
Walk from Ginkakuji to Kiyomizudera, stopping at Nazen-ji, Heian Shrine, Maruyama Park and following the philosophers path.
Dedicate a day to walking from Ginkakuji to Kiyomizudera (or the reverse depending on where you’re staying).
Start point – Ginkakuji
Also known as the silver pavilion, the structure itself is not that interesting. However, the gardens of Ginkakuji are spectacular, and filled with cherry trees.
Next – Follow, follow, follow the Philosophers Path
Although it’s not the yellow brick road, this path is easily accessible from Ginkakuji and is a little path that follows a canal lined with cherry tree. There are also a number of cute artisan shops along the path, so it makes a fun place to walk and browse. And cats, sooo many cats hang out here.
Next – Nazen-ji
This is a pretty cool temple complex that features a great brick aqueduct. Someone come with me and do a photoshoot here please!
Next – Heian shrine
Another shrine, this time in in your face red. However, my favourite thing about this shrine is not the front, but the gardens hidden behind the red face, make sure you check them out. This is actually a spot I went to after full bloom for the normal cherry blossoms, but the garden was still spectacular because all the weeping cherries were in bloom. Also, as I was leaving the shrine, I was lucky enough to see some geisha/maiko preforming. Yay, for saving a few thousand dollars on that experience.
Next – Maruyama Park
A very famous place for hanami. This park is filled with cherry trees, benches and food trucks selling delicious food. Grab some food and a place under a tree and enjoy the cherry blossoms the Japanese way. Best enjoyed with your choice of cold alcoholic beverage but this is optional (also note public drinking is allowed in Japan. Take that Australian liquor laws).
Next – Follow the famous Higashiyama street up to Kiyomizudera, (plus see if you can find my favourite shrine in all of Japan)
If you’ve spent anytime googling Kyoto, you would have seen a picture of Higashiyama street. If you can tear yourself away from all the traditional Japanese souvenirs and food, at the top of the hill you’ll find Kiyomizudera temple. Famous for being built on the face of a cliff, the front of this temple is a famous place to see sakura (and autumn leaves). However, I think it’s currently still under renovation, which really spoils the view (hence no picture included).
Also, near here is my favourite Japanese shrine, filled with colourful beanbags. I can only manage to find it once every couple of trips to Kyoto, it’s quite well hidden (so no directions sorry). But it’s a favourite among the girls in their kimono.
Finally – Make your way back down to Gion to stalk a Geisha and eat
Or if you’re me, stalk the guys from Masterchef Australia, try to get invited to their expensive dinner by discussing the price of vegetables and fruits in Japan (a greater problem than the price of fish), fail, spend the next hour procrastinating over what to eat before finally having the most amazing random meat on sticks ever. Also, there are a few cherry blossoms to see around the Gion area, but it’s really all about the food here fore me.
This is a modified walking route from this one posted by Japan Guide. I skipped a few places I knew would be overly crowded and added on a trip to Nishiki market (not listed here because I went there for food, not cherry trees).
I have two places to recommend in Osaka, but you could extend that to three, if you plan your day better than I did (can you see a reoccurring theme here?).
Spend a day exploring Osaka castle park and Sakuranomiya station park plus check out the Osaka Mint
Castles, money and parks named after the trees you’re chasing, what better way to spend a day seeing cherry blossoms in Osaka.
Start point – Osaka Castle
I hit up Osaka castle at about lunch time. I first stopped at Lawsons right next to Osaka Castle Park, which I would not recommend because everyone had the same idea as me and they literally had a designated walking path set up to access the store. Find a convenience store before you get to the park to save time. Once you have your food, find a patch of ground inside the park to eat under the cherry trees. You can also buy food from vendors inside the park, but they are also very busy. After you’ve eaten, I would take a walk around the castle complex, and go inside the castle if you desire.
Next – Go to see the Osaka Mint Cherry Blossom path.
I didn’t actually go here myself (because I left my house so late), but from all my research this is a mint place to catch the cherry blossoms (I’m punny). So, if you have time I would walk from Osaka castle to here.
Last – Make your way to Sakuranomiya station.
I pretty much stopped here because it had the name sakura in the station name, and I was chasing cherry blossoms. Plus, on my way to the castle I noticed a sea of trees that didn’t look too crowded.
After seeing the cherry trees at the Mint, walk up along the river to this station. Although there are closer stations to the mint, Sakuranomiya station (and the park next to it), lives up to its name by being filled with cherry blossoms.
One of my favourite places in all of Japan becomes many peoples favourite place when the cherry trees start blooming. If you google the best cherry viewing spots in Japan; Himeji castle appears on 9/10 lists (that aren’t focused on Tokyo, because there are places outside of Tokyo, people). In an attempt to keep up with statistical trends, I’m obviously going to include Himeji Castle on this list.
It’s very easy to access the castle from most major tourist centres, as it is a major shinkansen stop. If you want to avoid the crowds that gather to see the Sakura here, I highly suggest going on a weekday, after 4pm (entrance to the castle closes at this time but the grounds remain open).
Also, there is a zoo right next to the castle, and has free entry during sakura season. The only time I have entered this zoo was at this time, because it looked like it would offer some good views of the castle, but it was actually the most depressing place I’ve ever seen and I left very quickly. There are better viewing spots outside the zoo.
Chasing deer is fun, but it’s even better to do it in fields of cherry blossoms, or I assume it would be because again, this is a place I kind of failed on heading to at the right time. I don’t have a set route for here, because it’s just a giant park. Walk around, feed some deer, go to see the giant bronze buddha etc. Google it.
(Side note: Can my entire list just be, google it? Even though google probably led you to this page in the first place. I kinda like the idea of google inception.
(Also second side note: I did actually put hard work into this list and I haven’t just copied everything from google. If I’d done that it would be plagiarism and I would be kicked out of my super awesome blog holders guild)
I don’t live in a huge tourist hub, so most of my cherry blossom viewing was done within my home town. Luckily cherry blossoms aren’t just a marketing ploy for the big tourist centres. They’re actually beloved throughout the country, so I had plenty of opportunities to get my cherry blossom fix. If you have a chance, one of the best places to see cherry blossoms is actually at a Japanese school. This is because cherry blossoms symbolise new beginnings, and their bloom happens to coincide with the start of the Japanese school year. The school grounds will have some location with a collection of cherry blossoms, so the students can take their start of year photos under them. Good luck getting permission to do a photoshoot there though, unless you’re in the “Cool English teachers with tall noses” club. I’m a member but last year forgot to cash in on my membership so didn’t do any photoshoots. Maybe this year?
How to see the cherry blossoms like a local?
1. Find a group of friends (a task I commonly fail at)
2. Gather some food, alcohol and a tarp.
3. Find some cherry blossoms. Bonus points if it’s in a park with access to a toilet. I highly suggest not just sitting in the middle of the road, although it is a possible place to see cherry blossoms.
4. Lay out your tarp, unpack your food, shout kanpai (cheers in Japanese) and start drinking.
BONUS. If you earlier failed to find friends, take a book instead, or just sit on a random’s tarp and convince them you were part of their group the entire time. They’ll be so drunk they’ll forget that they don’t know any blue eyed, tall nosed Australian girls who barely speak Japanese.
And that’s all there is, there isn’t any more. Good luck on your cherry blossom hunting, I hope it lives up to expectations, and if it doesn’t and you used this post as your only source of information, please don’t blame me. Blame the institute who gave me my Japan expert qualifications (which would be my ego, so I guess you can actually blame me). Where do you want to go to see the cherry blossoms?
Until next time,