Cherry blossoms or sakura are indigenous to many Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan. It is in Japan where cherry blossoms are the most synonymous. Blossoming of these flowers can start as early as January in the southern prefecture of Okinawa. However, on Japan’s main islands it is traditionally the end of March and early April. Needless to say due to unseasonably warmer temperatures in recent weeks the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom a week or so earlier. Here are the dates to be made aware of so you can begin planning your own viewing party with friends and family. I’ll select the major cities in the various parts throughout Japan.
Sakura Viewing Cities, Opening Day, & Best Viewing Dates:
Tokyo – Opens on March 24th& the peak dates are March 28th to April 6th.
Kyoto – March 23rd & March 29th to April 7th.
Osaka – March 25th & March 30th to April 7th.
Nagoya – Opened March 18th & March 25th to April 3rd.
Hiroshima – March 22nd & March 29th to April 6th.
Sendai – April 6th & April 11th to the 18th
Sapporo – May 3rd & May 5th to the 13th.
One great thing about living in Japan is you can see cherry blossoms everywhere. You do not specifically have to go to a park, castle, temple, or shrine to see them, though that is where there is a greater abundance of these cherry trees. It’s quite magnificent to see the varieties of these trees from the weeping willow, or weeping cherry, to the magnificent Big Mountain Cherry, a deciduous tree that grows 20-40 feet in height and has a spread of 20-40 feet in width. Here are highlights of a few famous places in various parts of Japan where you can see cherry blossoms in absolute splendor.
Places to see Sakura:
Ueno Park – This is without a doubt the most popular, noisy, and crowded of all the sakura viewing spots in Japan. There are over a thousand trees lining the steets.
Shinjuku Gardens – Here you will find the complete opposite from Ueno Park. Its atmosphere is calmer and more peaceful. You will find many species of cherry trees in all shapes and size, along with different petal variations too.
Maruyama Park – It is Kyoto’s most popular park for cherry blossom viewing. The main centerpiece is its enormous weeping cherry. You can see it lit up for evening viewings too.
Arashiyama – Located just outside of Kyoto this area has beautiful views of cherry blossoms right at the foot of Arashiyama Mountains.
Himeji Castle – You have no doubt seen photos of Japanese castles in books, magazines, etc. More than likely you’ve seen these unique castles in films and television as well. Oftentimes you are seeing Himeji Castle. It is the most famous and photographed of all castles in Japan. It is also the city where I lived and worked in Japan back in the late 90’s. Every weekend it is always crowded with visitors from all over Japan and the world, especially for the sakura viewing. I went one Sunday afternoon for a viewing party at the castle. It was crowded all over the castle grounds with people on blankets eating food, drinking sake or tea, and having great conversations. We walked all along the perimeter, because there are numerous cherry trees with different color petals. This was certainly an experience I would never forget.
Yoshinoyama – Mount Yoshino is certainly worth traveling to, because it has been and still is the most famous cherry blossom viewing site for centuries. On the mountain there are over 30,000 cherry blossom trees.
Just taking a stroll anywhere in Japan is considered a cherry blossom viewing. Some of these locations have night viewings, so if you are out on the town in the evenings you can go by and see them under the lights. To give you an idea of just how popular sakura viewing is, especially in Tokyo, a person from a party will sit and reserve a spot on their picnic sheet starting as early as the morning. This is similar to people camping out for a grand opening of a new store where there are giveaways or waiting for the latest high-tech gadget to come out here in the U.S. Enjoy the cherry blossoms in Japan when you can, because they don’t last very long, but they are a very beautiful sight to behold.