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Top places in Japan to see cherry blossom

Nature

Once the cherry blossom (sakura) arrives in Japan, swathes of the country are bathed in pale pink light, with a heavenly scent and thousands of petals floating through the air. Depicted by countless artists and considered an emblem of the country, cherry blossom season is a magnificent sight and one of the best moments to visit.

Though it’s tricky to predict exactly when the cherry blossom will reach full bloom (mankai), you will still enjoy warm but mild weather and lots of spring cultural events around this time of year. We’ve included the recommended estimated dates of first bloom and full bloom for optimised cherry blossom viewing.

Here are the most popular destinations for witnessing the sakura spectacle.

Kyoto

See cherry blossom amid Kyoto's temples, sweeping gardens and resplendent imperial palaces

See cherry blossom amid Kyoto's temples, sweeping gardens and resplendent imperial palaces

The cherry blossoms of Kyoto – a city of temples, tranquil gardens and resplendent imperial palaces – tend to bloom from the last week of March until the middle of April. Visit the huge, 80-year-old sakura tree weeping over the pond in Maruyama Park, a popular spot for hanami, the Japanese tradition of welcoming spring with food, drink, and music. Or walk The Philosopher’s Walk, a canal lined with cherry blossoms that cast dappled sunshine through their dazzling, light-pink canopy. Stay at Gion Oyado Kikutani, a charming ryokan just a few minutes’ walk from Maruyama Park.

Tokyo

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom along the Meguro River in Tokyo

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom along the Meguro River in Tokyo

Japan’s enormous, technologically advanced capital may seem an unlikely place to revel in nature. But its many Japanese gardens and the surreal sight of blossom petals floating through this fast-paced city make it one of Japan’s sakura hot spots. Check in to the Westin Tokyo to be within walking distance of one of Tokyo’s top cherry blossom-viewing spots, the Meguro River.

Kanazawa

Explore cherry blossom spots, tea houses and groves of twisted ancient trees in Kanazawa

Explore cherry blossom spots, tea houses and groves of twisted ancient trees in Kanazawa

A castle town treasured for its well-preserved samurai and geisha districts, Kanazawa is made even more otherworldly with sakura petals dancing in the wind. You’ll also find one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens here, Kenroku-en Garden. With tea houses, groves of twisted ancient trees, ponds with rare species of fish, and flowers precisely planted for serene effect, this is a clear demonstration of the artistry in Japanese gardens. Stay at Kaname Inn Tatemachi, an apartment just a few minutes’ walk from Kenroku-en Garden, with stylish, modern Japanese decor.

Nara

Visit the scenic city of Nara in sakura season to see it bathed in pale pink light

Visit the scenic city of Nara in sakura season to see it bathed in pale pink light

Nara is the capital of Japan’s Nara Prefecture, and is a culturally rich city that’s full of greenery. When the cherry blossom blooms, there are numerous parks, palaces, shrines and even castle ruins that provide a delightful setting for enjoying the sakura. But the nearby Mt. Yoshino, just south of the city, provides one of the most mind-blowing spring sights in all of Japan. Here, around 30,000 cherry blossom trees completely cover the landscape, bathing it in pale pink light and giving off a heavenly, sweet scent. Stay within the elegant confines of B&B, Houtouji Temple, in the Yoshino area.

Fukuoka

A spring day in Fukuoka featuring beautiful, blooming cherry blossom

A spring day in Fukuoka featuring beautiful, blooming cherry blossom

Every spring, the ruins of Fukuoka Castle and the surrounding Maizuru Park become a magical place to see sakura. The cherry blossom trees here are illuminated in a variety of different colours at night, with visitors able to soak up the atmosphere while wandering the ruined walls, turrets and gates (the festivities tend to run from late March to early April). Stay a couple of streets away from Maizuru Park at the highly rated Yagura Hostel.

Aomori

Hirosaki Castle in Aomori is best visited in the spring when surrounded with pink blossom petals

Hirosaki Castle in Aomori is best visited in the spring when surrounded with pink blossom petals

Right at the northern tip of Honshu, Japan’s main island, the prefecture of Aomori lays claim to some of the country’s best cherry blossoms. It’s a region of mystic lakes and mountains thick with virgin forest of Hiba cypress, Japanese fir and gingko trees. But it’s the city of Hirosaki – in the grounds of its eponymous, 17th-century castle – that hosts some of the most popular hanami celebrations. The Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (to be held between 21 April and 5 May 2023) features over 2500 trees, rowing boats to rent, cherry blossom tunnels to stroll through and sakura illuminated by night (the best view of the lit-up trees is by Shunyo Bridge on the west side of the park. Stay at Kobori Ryokan, a 10-minute walk from the castle.

Sapporo

Sapporo’s Maruyama Park is a popular hanami party hotspot

Sapporo’s Maruyama Park is a popular hanami party hotspot

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, a sparsely populated island north of Honshu that’s renowned for its wild and spectacular scenery. And when its cherry blossom comes into bloom, this natural beauty is enhanced tenfold. There are lots of places outside of the city to witness the spectacle but Sapporo’s Maruyama Park and adjacent Hokkaido Shrine form one of the most popular hanami party hotspots. Here, 1,400 cherry blossoms and 250 plum blossoms (ume) bloom simultaneously, with a beautiful avenue of trees leading up to the shrine and plenty of space in the park for laying picnic rugs beneath the flowers. Purchase a souvenir bottle of Jingū no ume (a Japanese plum wine) from the shrine. Or wash down your picnic treats with a cup of Jingu no sakura (a herbal tea made with pickled cherry blossoms, seaweed and black beans). Stay at the stylish Ten to Ten, 40 minutes on the subway from the shrine.

Fukushima

Expect abundant cherry blossom scenes in Fukushima come spring

Expect abundant cherry blossom scenes in Fukushima come spring

Just over an hour by bullet train from Tokyo, the city of Fukushima sits in the Abukuma Valley, surrounded by the Tohoku region’s astounding natural beauty. Expect hot springs, forest-cloaked, mountainous and volcanic landscapes, and abundant cherry blossom scenes come spring. The best sakura spot here is the hillside Hanamiyama Park, home to plum blossoms, Tokaizakura cherry blossoms, rosebud cherry blossoms, Yoshino cherry blossoms and many more. It’s located just outside the city centre, and you can walk there in half an hour. But you might want to take one of the shuttle buses that run regularly from Fukushima Station in season, so as to save your energy for the hiking trails that criss-cross this floral paradise. Stay in a room with traditional tatami mats at Fukushima’s welcoming Guesthouse Oyado Iizaka.

Bonus blossom destinations:

Osaka

In addition to cherry blossom, foodies must visit Osaka to try the city's signature dish, okonomiyaki

In addition to cherry blossom, foodies must visit Osaka to try the city's signature dish, okonomiyaki

A city celebrated for its humming party scene, restaurants and street food, Osaka is a fantastic place to be when the celebratory cherry blossom arrives. Riverside promenades and gardens are great spots for enjoying the view, with thousands of cherry blossoms planted by the water. The Osaka Mint Bureau (the Japan Mint headquarters) opens its grounds on the banks of the Yodo River to the public for one week during cherry blossom season. For a personalised experience, book a scenic guided tour rounded off with a picnic of local specialities such as okonomiyaki (a delectable savoury pancake). Stay just an 8-minute walk upriver from the Mint Bureau at the Imperial Hotel Osaka.

Sendai

Spectacular sakura views at Matsu Park

Spectacular sakura views at Matsu Park

Northeast of Tokyo in Japan’s Tohoku Region, you’ll find the city of Sendai and some spectacular sakura. Within the city, there are the hanami-friendly, wide lawns of Mikamine Park, the cherry blossom festival and nighttime-illuminated trees of Nishi Park. Or Tsutsujigaoka Park, which has a variety of Somei Yoshino and weeping cherry trees planted along its paved lanes. To explore further afield, head to Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park (a half-hour drive from Sendai) where you can gaze at cherry blossom trees cloaking the mountainside and a sweeping view of Matsushima Bay. There’s also the Shiogama Shrine or Shiroishi Riverside, both about 30 minutes’ by train from Sendai and offering breathtaking sakura scenes. Check into the highly rated Sendai Royal Park Hotel.

Takayama

Cherry blossom trees blooming either side of Takayama's red, wooden Nakabashi Bridge

Cherry blossom trees blooming either side of Takayama's red, wooden Nakabashi Bridge

The historic city of Takayama boasts historic landmarks aplenty, all of which appear ever more spectacular in the springtime. Cherry blossom trees bloom either side of the red, wooden Nakabashi Bridge and fill the picturesque Miyagawa Ryokuchi park. Just a short walk from the park is the stylish Hotel Wood Takayama.

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