Pink canopies of blossoms lingering above hundreds of heads bobbing up and down the busy streets of Japan. A crisp chill fills the air as blossoms float down gracefully like snow. Oh, the beauty of sakura season in Japan – otherwise known as one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Last spring, I was able to check off one of my most coveted trips from my bucket list and it was nothing less than magical. Japan’s sakura season is something you must experience at least once in your lifetime. As I reminisce about my trip, I wanted to share my experiences and what I wish I knew before going.
Getting lost somewhere near Harajuku…
when to go
You can experience the cherry blossom season as early as February and as late as May depending on which cities you are visiting. Different parts of Japan will bloom at different times since blooms start south and travel up north. Although the blooms are not punctual and hard to predict, a good time frame to plan around is the end of March to the early weeks of April. In 2017, I was in Japan from April 7 to April 15 and it was perfect. Some trees were starting to die, but majority were beautifully blossomed. My brother went to Tokyo a few years ago near the latter half of mid-April and was bummed to only see shriveled blossoms.
weather + what to pack
Let me start by saying that I totally underestimated the spring weather in Japan! Don’t let those pretty Instagram pictures of girls in dresses fool you – it’s cold and rainy this time of year. I was so cold every day and the two thin coats I brought with me didn’t cut it. A sunny day was rare and everyday was chilly, no matter rain or shine. I’d recommend packing for a winter in Los Angeles with a few spring options. That means coats, sweaters, long sleeves, jeans, and a scarf. I did the exact opposite and regretted it. You may even want to bring a rain coat or jacket. Borrow umbrellas from your hotel or purchase a cheap one on the side of the road to save some space in your luggage. As for shoes, you’ll walk a lot rain or shine, so opt for sneakers or other comfortable shoes that you don’t mind wearing and tearing. The suede boots I brought along were destroyed after this trip. If you have space in your suitcase, bring rainboots! Some pink rainboots would match your surroundings so perfectly.
Row, row, row your boat gently down Chidorigafuchi
where to go
My trip was short lived, so I only had the pleasure of traveling to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Here are a few of my favorite sakura spots that I visited and some places that I wish we had time for:
Ueno Park – Tokyo
This park is huge and you can find many characters here. My mom and I brought some goodies from a nearby bakery and enjoyed them by a fountain. Sitting together with both of us in silence as we people watched is one of my favorite memories. It was a very serene moment amongst all the chaos. As we left, the lanterns turned on, lighting up a beautiful path to the subway.
Chidorigafuchi – Tokyo
Chidorigafuchi is where the iconic boat ride along cherry blossoms resides. This is definitely a must if you have the time. We went mid-day and waited almost two hours. It felt just like a Disneyland ride, except a bit more work on my part. I went with my mom so I had to row us up and down the river. It can be a little hectic though if you don’t know how to row a boat because they time you for 30 minutes. The vicinity is ginormous! we actually walked almost an hour after getting dropped off by our taxi until we found the line for the boats. I didn’t foresee this so I just told the taxi driver to drop us off somewhere random. Try pre-planning with your hotel or driver to get a more direct route to the moat. Bad planning and researching on my part.
Shinjuku Gyoen – Tokyo
Sadly, we didn’t have time in our itinerary to visit this spot. It’s definitely on the list for next time!
Kyoto Botanical Gardens – Kyoto
This botanical garden is a hidden gem. It was not on my radar when planning, but I’m so glad we discovered it! There’s a small fee of about $2 to get in. These gardens are beautiful and you can view so many different types of cherry blossoms. The photo below is from a cherry blossom tree at the gardens. My mom and I preferred this spot over the popular Kyoto Imperial Palace Park.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple – Kyoto
A UNESCO World Heritage site made even more beautiful with cherry blossoms all around. It was super cold, windy, and rainy when we went but we could not help but keep exploring the temple and the area around it.
Philosopher’s Walk – Kyoto
So after two days of straight rain and cold in Kyoto, Philosopher’s Walk became another beauty we missed out on. This was one of the top places on my list but the heavy wind and persistent rain in Kyoto made outdoor activities very hard. There’s always next time!
Osaka Castle – Osaka
The Osaka Castle never looked better than it does during the sakura season. Also another great spot to leisurely stroll and admire the views, which my mom and I chose to do with ice creams in hand rather than go up the steps of the castle. 😉
1. Participate in hanami. Hanami is the traditional Japanese custom of cherry blossom viewing. It’s a very popular past time where locals gather together to picnic as they enjoy the spring season. A popular hanami snack is hanami dango.
2. Don’t miss viewings of the cherry blossoms at night, which are called yozakura. Some places will have displays that light up the blossoms, making them just as beautiful at night as during the day.
3. Cherry blossom season is one of the busiest times in Japan. Book things as early as you can.
4. A lot of food places will have cherry blossom themed treats during the spring season. We had some sakura ice cream parfait from Aoyama Flower Market Tea House and sakura Kit Kats. Chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s both have sakura drinks. Not only will there be sakura themed treats, but there will even be sakura themed events and festivals.
5. Wake up early to beat the crowds. My mom and I never slept past 7AM. Most mornings we woke up around 6 and had a lot of sights to ourselves and it was well worth it.
6. Check up on the CHERRY BLOSSOM FORECAST to stay updated. I wish I knew about this when I went!
7. One of the things that makes Japan so likable and unique are the mindfulness of their locals. Be respectful and polite as well.
8. There are different types of cherry blossoms, so not all of them will look the same. If you want to see a bunch of them all in one place, I’d recommend taking a trip to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens.
9. Ask hotels or information centers if they have special maps during the cherry blossom season. Our HOTEL in Kyoto provided a welcome folder with a map that showed all the best cherry blossom spots in town.
10. Travel the unbeaten path and consider alternatives to popular cities. Personally, I find that beautiful places lose a lot of attraction when swarmed with people. I traveled to three major cities since it was my first time in Japan. The next chance I get to go back for sakura season, I’m most definitely going to the Mt. Fuji and Hakone areas.
I hope you find this information helpful! If you did, I’d love and appreciate if you could pass it along. 🙂