When is Cherry Blossom Season in Japan?
The popularity of cherry blossoms in Japan seems to know no bounds. Every springtime, the country welcomes a huge influx of visitors, all intent on viewing the transient beauty of these wonderfully vivid pink or white flowers known as sakura.
The cherry blossom is a tree that’s commonly seen throughout East Asia, particularly in Japan – but it’s not just one specific type that exists here. In fact, there are over two hundred different varieties of Japanese cherry trees, some of which grow wild and others that have been carefully cultivated to thrive.
So when is the best time to plan a Japanese blossom-viewing visit? Well, any time from late March to mid to late April is usually a safe bet – due to the country’s varying climates, the cherry blossoms in Japan appear at different times. The sakura season peak bloom occurs roughly a week after they start blooming. The warmer and milder southwestern parts of the country will tend to see cherry blossoms earlier than the chillier north, for instance. Altitude also affects the time a cherry tree will bloom.
Thankfully, the country’s officials have it covered, and you can check the Japanese cherry blossom blooming forecast via Japan’s Meteorological Agency, which uses official ‘observation trees’ located at 58 Agency offices across Japan. The JMA’s predictions are typically released in early January for the coming season and are then regularly updated in the lead up to the blossom’s appearance. This way, you can see when both the first blooms and full blooms are likely to appear in dozens of cities across the country.
The History of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan
The Japanese custom of actively celebrating the blooming of cherry blossoms has centuries of history and may have begun as early as the Nara Period (710-794 AD). Back in ancient Japan, the change in seasons was often marked by offerings to the gods in return for bountiful harvests, and these offerings would also involve a feast enjoyed beneath the flowering blossoms. This slowly became a cultural activity of viewing the transient flowers, known as ‘hanami’; and still takes place across Japan today. Many parks and public spaces are filled with people who gather to gaze at the sakura blossoms while enjoying a picnic with their friends and family.
It’s also common to bring snacks and picnic foods to a hanami party – which might well include sakura flavored goodies. That’s right, cherry blossoms are edible, and their deliciously delicate flavor makes a perfect addition to sakura dango mochi and sakura cherry blossom tea.
The idea of cherry blossom viewing has even made it to the United States! In March 1912, Tokyo’s Mayor Yukio Ozaki presented the city of Washington, D.C., with a collection of 3,000 cherry blossom trees as a mark of the friendship developing between the two countries. Since then, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan has been held annually from March to April.
Best Places to Experience Cherry Blossoms Blooming
The town of Yoshino lies east of Osaka in the Kii Mountains (which is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Known for the natural hot springs in the area, it also comes truly alive in the springtime when thousands of cherry trees come into bloom both around and on Mount Yoshino. These sakura trees respond to different altitudes, so the blooms develop up the mountain as the sakura season unfolds.
Mount Yoshino is a stunning spot to enjoy the cherry blossoms: you can hike up the mountain itself for your views, or simply wander the surrounding area while visiting beautiful locations like the wooden Kinpusen-ji Temple and the Yoshino Jingu Shrine. The mountain is lit up at night, creating an otherworldly cherry blossom viewing opportunity too.
Himeji Castle, Kansai
Located on a hilltop in Himeji city in the Hyogo prefecture of western Japan, the awe-inspiring Himeji Castle is perhaps the country’s most famous castle and is certainly the largest. This huge sprawling complex consists of more than eighty buildings, all of which are extremely well preserved for their age. Though the castle dates back to 1333, it has been remodeled by various rulers, but it's still a wonderful example of Japanese architecture from the 17th century. It’s also known as Shirasagi-jo - White Heron Castle - thanks to its appearance that mimics the shape of a flying heron.
Himeji Castle is home to over a thousand weeping cherry and Yoshino cherry trees in its beautifully landscaped grounds, predominantly around the main keep and lining the castle walls.
When you see the castle’s multi-layered bright white facade towering above a sweeping river of pink blossom, it’s unforgettable.
The views from outside the castle won’t cost you anything, while a castle entry ticket grants you access to explore the grounds inside. There are plenty of hanami viewing parties taking place at Himeji Castle each spring, along with nighttime illuminations too.
Fuji Five Lakes, Chubu
It’s not surprising that Mount Fuji boasts gorgeous picture-perfect views of the annual cherry blossoms, along with the greater Fujigoko area too. All around the Fuji Five Lakes, there are some beautiful places to enjoy the springtime flowers, most notably on the north shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, the main street of the Iyashi no Sato craft village close to Lake Saiko, and the tree-lined river path near Ryuganbuchi Bridge, a popular spot with photographers.
Then there’s Chureito Pagoda, which is also the location of one of Japan’s most Insta-famous images: the impossibly picturesque sight of Mount Fuji’s snow-capped peak with the red and green five-storied pagoda in the foreground, surrounded by seasonal cherry blossoms.
If you’re traveling in the later season and looking for cherry blossoms in May, you’re in luck. The Fuji Shibazakura festival, which is held at the base of Mt Fuji, features thousands of shibazakura, a type of vibrant pink moss that continues blooming after the majority of the cherry blossoms in Japan have faded away.
Hirosaki Castle, Tohoku
Northern Japan’s Hirosaki Castle is a beautifully well-preserved Japanese castle that’s never been rebuilt. It sits in the center of Hirosaki Park, which is filled with over fifty different varieties of cherry trees covered in blossom each spring. Some of these trees are over a century old and are celebrated each spring with the multi-day Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, Japan tradition at its finest.
You may have seen images of a fairytale-like tunnel made entirely of sakura blossoms. Well, it’s a real place! The appropriately named ‘Sakura Tunnel’ in Hirosaki is a hugely popular Instagram location thanks to the rows of cherry blossom trees that line both sides of the walking path close to the castle’s western moat. The path is over 3 km long and features around 600 cherry trees whose branches almost seem to connect together above your head.
For a city the size of Tokyo, there are numerous different spots to view the cherry blossoms. Be forewarned that many places will be extremely crowded due to the popularity of this time of year!
Some of the most popular places include Yoyogi Park, one of the city’s largest national parks with over 700 trees, and Ueno Park, where a festival is held every year to showcase its spectacular blossoms – and where some rather wild hanami parties extend late into the night too.
There’s also Chidorigafuchi Park, which provides a really scenic and relaxing spot to view the cherry blossoms. The stone-walled Edo Castle is close by, allowing visitors to capture some gorgeous photos from the park itself or even via a rowboat in the moat.
Other places include Osaka Castle, Maruyama Park, and Ueno Park are just some of the best places for hanami in Japan.
Significance of Cherry Blossoms in Japan
The cherry blossom is a big part of Japanese culture – so much so that it’s even the national flower of Japan – and there are many symbolic meanings at play.
Firstly, the cherry tree represents renewal. As its beautiful flowers only bloom for a short time, it’s a perfect representation of the transience of human life, the clear cycle of birth and death.
The brief length of a cherry blossom’s flowering has also been seen to reflect the short yet beautiful life of the Japanese samurai, who chooses when to sacrifice his life in allegiance to the emperor.
In the same vein, the kamikaze pilots who fought in World War II often had cherry blossoms painted on their planes and the buttons of their uniforms to indicate their short-lived destinies.
Perhaps a less symbolic significance is the clear delineation of the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The seasons changing is an optimistic time for many and is a perfect cause for celebration.
Must-Try Sakura Treats
If your taste buds are tingling with the thought of cherry blossom season, there are plenty of sakura snacks for you to try at Bokksu. With the Sakura Boutique Collection, you can sample some sakura flower tea, handmade sakura candies, or white chocolate-covered sakura petal cookies. First-time subscribers to Bokksu can also skip the Seasons of Japan box and receive the two Sakura boxes, which are being shipped out through Feb/March.
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