The travel experts over at The Luxe Nomad give us the low-down on making the most of cherry blossom season in Japan!
Timing is everything
Let us preface this by saying the most important thing isn’t where you go, it’s when. Cherry blossoms only tend to last for a week or two, and once they fall, it’s over for the season. Blooming time varies by geographic position (they bloom earlier in milder climates) and weather conditions in the region. Cherry blossom season typically begins in the south of Japan around Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo in late March, before heading up north to Hokkaido in late April to early May.
While the Japan Meteorological Corporation has already released this year’s forecast, our friends in Japan say that it’s still too early to predict the exact time. Local newspapers and TV stations will give more accurate forecasts two to three weeks before the season commences, so if you have the luxury to book a trip on a whim, keep an eye and ear out around early to mid-March.
Where to go
Cherry blossoms bloom all over Japan during sakura season, but some of the best places to witness the romantic pinks and whites are Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
Tokyo | Last week of March
One of the most popular places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo is Ueno Park, which has more than 1000 trees leading towards the National Museum. Blossoms here typically open one to three days ahead of other spots in the city. Given its popularity, Ueno Park is also one of the most crowded, so we recommend heading to the quieter Shinjuku Gyoen, which is home to dozens of cherry blossom species, including numerous early and late blooming varieties. There is a fee to enter Shinjuku Gyoen, but it’s a great place to go if you’re in Tokyo slightly before or after the main blooming season. Looking to stay close to the action? Consider Gyoen Loft Shinjuku, The Luxe Nomad‘s minimalist two-bedroom apartment located just around the corner from the park.
If you’re keen on a pleasant picnic surrounded by blossoming trees, stop by Yoyogi Park which has over 600 blossoming trees and a small variety of food stands.
The gorgeous Inokashira Park features a large pond where you can rent a boat and view the delicate beauty of cherry blossoms from the water.
Last but certainly not least, the Imperial Palace offers free sakura viewing from its east gardens, perfect for a nice afternoon stroll. The Luxe Nomad’s minimalist lofts Chiyoda and Residence by The Imperial Palace are conveniently located just west of the palace.
Kyoto | Late March to early April
The Philosopher’s Path is Kyoto’s most popular cherry blossom spot, starting from Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and ending in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. The path is nearly 2km long, lined with cherry trees that stretch as far as the eye can see. The path can get quite crowded, so we recommend visiting in the evening when the crowds disperse and the trees are illuminated near Ginkaku-ji Temple.
Maruyama-koen Park is the go-to place to experience hanami, cherry blossom viewing parties, where you can grab a cub of tea and tuck into traditional Japanese fare. The park has a towering 70-year old weeping cherry tree that is absolutely beautiful, especially when it’s lit up at night.
Nijo Castle has over 50 different cherry blossom varieties spread across the castle grounds, surrounding its moat, walls, and inner garden.
To escape the crowds, head to the local favourite Konkai-Komyoji Temple, which is over 1000 years old and surrounded by large cherry trees that look extra special at twilight.
Finally, The Kyoto Botanical Garden is great for late season sakura viewing, featuring many weeping trees than tend to bloom later than others in the area.
Live like a local in Kyoto by staying at one of The Luxe Nomad’s authentic machiya townhouses built in the early 1900s, such as Izumiya-cho Machiya or Nishijin Isa-cho Machiya. Each of these spots come with their own onsen-style Japanese hot baths.
Osaka | Late March to early April
While Tokyo and Kyoto are typically the go-to cities for Sakura viewing, Osaka also offerings wonderful views sans the crowd. Osaka Castle has over 4000 cherry trees across its expansive grounds, and you’ll often be treated to taiko drumming performances during the peak of hanami season.
Kema Sakuranomiya Park offers a seemingly endless row of cherry trees lining the Okawa River. The park is one of Osaka’s most popular sakura spots attracting heavy weekend crowds, so we recommend viewing the cherry blossoms from a pleasant river cruise.
Home to over 5000 cherry trees, Expo 70 Commemorative Park sits on the outskirts of Osaka city but can easily be reached via monorail at the Banpaku-kinen-koen Station. The huge park also has a traditional Japanese Garden as well as a large open-air craft market when the flowers are in full bloom.