THE 3 BEST PLACES TO SEE JAPAN'S CHERRY BLOSSOMS
Originally limited to the elite, cherry-blossom viewing is now a symbol of Japanese culture. Join us in the practice of hanami and learn the best spots across the country for a scenic picnic under the sakura trees
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Yu Kato
02 April 2022
Springtime is the season of rebirth and nature is perhaps at its most romantic in Japan. For the fleeting period of merely a week or two the first sakura (cherry) trees bloom, representing a season of fresh start. For over a millennium hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) has been a tradition in the country. Originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, the custom of having lunch and drinking sake in cheerful feasts under the sakura trees, quickly spread to the samurai society and not long after to the common people as well.
The beginning of spring carries out the poetic symbolism of the delicate blooms, which relates to the transience of beauty. The people of Japan eagerly follow the flower blossoming throughout the country’s different regions and every year gather with friends and family to the local squares, temples and parks to witness the dreamy, yet fleeting event. Hanami is a practice that dates to the Nara period (710–794). The cherry trees are often regarded as sacred and over the centuries have transformed into a landmark that symbolises new beginnings, Buddhist temples and numerous local areas in Japan.
In January the blossoming begins is Okinawa and typically doesn’t reach Tokyo and Kyoto until the end of March or the beginning of April. In the following few weeks, it moves through areas of higher altitude until it arrives in Hokkaido. The Japanese Meteorological Agency issues nightly forecasts to inform the public of the progress of the sakura zensen ("cherry blossom front") as it moves northward up the archipelago with the approach of the warmer weather. English language speakers can monitor the cherry-blossom forecast at Kyuhoshi.com. Japanese pay close attention to these forecasts, eager to hold flower-viewing parties and to enjoy the postcard-like view.
These are 3 of the best spots across Japan to catch the advance of the sakura zensen (cherry-tree blossom line):
Yoshino, Kansai (the most famous cherry-blossom destination)
From early to mid-April Yoshino in Kansai is Japan's most famous cherry-blossom destination. Many Japanese long to see the floral carpets tenderly ascending to the mountainsides. The spectacle attracts locals among numerous tourists, jamming the narrow streets of the village so make sure to either book accommodation well in advance or prepare to witness the cherry-blossom petals fall among a dense crowd during a day trip (typically from Nara or Osaka).
Hirosaki-kōen, Tōhoku in Northern Honshū (to avoid the crowds)
With over 50 hectares of green space, Hirosaki-kōen is a park stretched upon the grounds of what used to be the castle Hirosaki-jō. The park is decorated with marble moats and scenic arching bridges among over 2500 sakura trees. Hirosaki is also much less crowded than population centres such as Tokyo and Kyoto, which gives you more room to move around and you can even rent paddle boats to take out to the pink-petals-covered moats.
Maruyama-kōen in Kyoto (to enjoy a beautiful picnic)
There are many stunning places across Kyoto to watch the blossoms but perhaps the most iconic hanami spot is Maruyama Park. From dusk until midnight the over-10m-tall tree, whose branches arch gracefully nearly to the petal-covered ground, is illuminated every night much like the canal lined with cherry trees. The Gion Shidare-zakura, the "Weeping Cherry of Gion," is positioned in the middle of the park, named after the nearby entertainment district, Gion, where geiko (Kyoto's geisha) still perform. Rest assured that many picnics take place among the 680 sakura trees in Maruyama-kōen.
DID YOU KNOW:
The custom of hanami is a centuries-old tradition in Japan. The 8th century chronicle Nihon Shoki (日本書紀) records hanami festivals being held during the 3rd century AD.
Cherry blossoms are a prevalent symbol in the traditional art of Japanese tattoos where they are often combined with other classic Japanese symbols like tigers, dragons and koi fish.