It was on my sixth visit to Japan—including even a half-year stint in Tokyo—that I finally, finally! found myself sipping sake under fluffy cotton candy clouds of cherry blossoms.
IT WAS GLORIOUS.
For the Japanese, cherry blossoms, or sakura, aren’t just pink flowers: their ephemeral nature taps into the culture’s deep appreciation for the fleeting beauty of life. Sakura mania sweeps the nation as the cherry blossoms bloom from south to north. Cue sakura-flavored waffles, kit kats, mochi, lattes, and more.
From making reservations 2 months in advance for a restaurant with a view to sending their junior employees to the park midday to stake out a prime spot under a tree, the Japanese take their “hanami,” or cherry blossom appreciation, very seriously. (For a few days out of the year, the normally workaholic culture embraces leaving the office during the day to get their Asahi on!)
Sakura season is pretty damn hyped. So I thought I'd be disappointed. I was not.
By the end of my week+ picnicking under sakura, strolling next to sakura, photographing every instance of sakura, and partaking in all variations of sakura related revelry from Tokyo to Kyoto, I, too, felt the Japanese wistfulness that comes with the quick fade of the short-lived bloom.
It was beautiful. It was short. It was sweet. I loved it.
HOW TO PLAN A TRIP TO SEE CHERRY BLOSSOMS
TIming a trip to see cherry blossoms is part planning, part luck. Sakura typically bloom the first or second week of April in Tokyo, but exact timing varies by year, and the forecasts don’t always hit the mark. An unexpectedly warm day can bring about early blooms; on the flip side, a rainy, windy one can whisk the season to an end prematurely.
If you have the luxury of time and flexibility, plan to spend 1.5+ weeks in Japan, deciding on your itinerary depending on where and how quickly sakura are blooming as the date nears. Here’s an English forecast.
THE BEST PLACES TO SEE CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN TOKYO
Ueno Park is arguably the most popular cherry blossom viewing spot in Tokyo—head there to witness prime hanami partying in action. Stake a spot out early!
Monzen Nakacho's canal is lined with trees and has a similar feel to Meguro River, but is almost completely empty. It’s a little thrill to walk on the pathway alongside the canal, under the cherry trees.
Meguro River in Nakameguro is also popular in the evenings--the cherry trees create a canopy of flowers over the river, and the river is lined with lanterns that light them up from below. At peak bloom, it’s an incredible sight.
Kinuta Park near Yoga Station is a little out of the way, and has just a small area of a dozen or so trees, but they’re old and towering and absolutely magnificent. One of Mike’s Japanese colleagues brought him here a few years ago. It draws a couple of groups but they're mostly locals—nowhere near the tourist crowds you'll get at Ueno or Meguro River.