A Beginner’s Guide To Cherry Blossom Viewing In Japan
Every April, visitors from all over the world travel to Japan for Hanami (“flower viewing”). The iconic cherry blossom, or sakura, turns the country into a visual feast during this time, bringing with it a profound sense of community.
Lively outdoor picnics under thick bouquets of pink flowers become a common sight, as do widespread festivals celebrating nature’s most wondrous sprout.
It’s always the most incredible time to be in Japan, but to make the most of it, it’s worth seeking out the best hanami spots. Here are five of those locations, each holding a special place in the country’s rich and celebratory spring history.
Tokyo has many valuable hanami spots, like Ueno, Yoyogi and Shinjuku Parks, but the most unique is Nakameguro. Specifically, the Meguro River, which cuts through this trendy neighbourhood al fresco and is surrounded by Japanese BBQ restaurants, cafes, and design shops.
For approximately 4km, this narrow canal is lined with more than 800 cherry trees, making a spectacular sight as the pink petals dance over the water.
It’s become such an iconic cherry blossom site that Nakameguro hosts a special festival each season that sees the tree lit up until 9pm, and food stalls set up day and night.
Getting there: Starting at Shibuya Station, take the short ride on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line directly to Nakameguro Station.
Mount Yoshino, Nara
Known as one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in the entire country, the historic Mount Yoshino is a constant source of inspiration for Japanese domestic travellers. You won’t find many international tourists here, simply because most people rarely look beyond the deer-riddled Todaiji Temple when they visit Nara.
As such, the atmosphere is one of peace and tranquility as you make your way across the pedestrian-friendly mountain, divided into four areas that include a small town with shops, cafes and an onsen.
In total, the mountain is covered with around 30,000 cherry trees of all kinds of varieties, with dedicated viewing spots offering wide vistas to take in the seasonal spectacle.
Getting there: You can catch a JR line from Nara, Kyoto and Osaka stations to Yoshino-guchi Station. From there, transfer to the Kintetsu Railway train for a 30-minute ride to Yoshino Station, which is at the base of Mount Yoshino. Then, take a bus up the mountain, and a ropeway back down.
Hirosaki Park, Aomori
Hire a rowboat and float along the petal-filled moats of Hirosaki Park. With a historic castle as the backdrop, this is one of the most emblematic sakura spots in Japan, defined by no less than 2,600 cherry trees of over 50 different varieties.
The park boasts around 2 million visitors each year during the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, which is usually held between 23rd April and 5th May. During this event, the park is illuminated each night, playing off the location’s otherworldly beauty and historic landmarks.
Notably, trees here flower with more buds than most other cherry trees in Japan. This is due to specific pruning techniques, which apple farmers from the surrounding Aomori prefecture have used to maximise the volume of flowers on every branch.
Getting there: If you’re coming from Tokyo you can simply get the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) to Aomori, which takes just over 3 hours. From there, take the Tsugaru limited express train for a 30-minute ride to Hirosaki Station.
Hitome Senbonzakura, Miyagi
Translated as “1000 Cherry Blossoms at a Glance”, the famous site of Hitome Senbonzakura attracts more than 300,000 visitors each season with its bountiful hanami.
Food stalls and nearby supermarkets are popular for those planning a picnic on the river, looking out to the 1,200 cherry trees which line both sides of the bank. Stretching for 8km, the many types of cherry trees, including White Mountain and Yoshino varieties, form the base of a much wider view that takes in distant snowy mountains.
Getting there: The majority of cherry trees stretch between Funaoka and Ogawara stations, which can both be reached directly via the Tohuku Line. Coming from Tokyo, catch the Tohoku Express for the 1.5-hour trip to Sendai station, and then change for another 30-minute journey to either Funaoka or Ogawara.
Inokashira Park, Tokyo
Although Inokashira Park is perhaps best known as the entry point to the iconic Ghibli Museum, this large and leafy space near bar-riddled Kichijoji is the city’s most underrated hanami spot.
Join the locals in taking a rowboat out onto the mid-sized pond and get up close to all the surrounding cherry trees. There are around 500 which surround the body of water, all of which are illuminated at night during the peak of season.
Getting there: Coming from Shibuya, jump on the Inokashira Line and ride it for approximately 30 minutes until the very end of the line, Inokashira-koen station. You can also take the Chuo Line from Tokyo Station straight to Kichijoji Station and take the short walk, stopping for picnic supplies along the way.
(Lead image: Japan National Tourism Organization / supplied)
Published 09 March, 2020