Anytime is always a good time to visit Japan, but there’s just something so magical in witnessing the blooming of the sakura at the beginning of spring, it completely blew me away when I visited last April.
I’ve seen cherry blossoms before, but trust me when I say that it really is a different experience when you’re in Japan, whose entire nation celebrates its blooming to welcome the beginning of spring, also known as hanami. Every year, droves of locals and tourists alike flock to iconic spots across the country to celebrate by having picnics, barbecues and drinks underneath the blooming trees and falling sakura petals.
If you’re planning to specifically see the sakura, I strongly suggest looking up the blooming forecast dates before booking flights as different areas bloom at different times, and the average blooming season lasts only a span of two weeks each time!
There are many hanami spots that you could go to enjoy the cherry blossoms, and most of these places are available to the public at no charge.
If you’re wondering which ones are worth going to, this post is a list of mine and Jack’s favourites within and near Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures that you might want to bookmark for your future reference:
Ueno Kōen, Tokyo
One of the Tokyo’s most popular parks, this was the first place we visited after our arrival, when the first few flowers started blooming. If you’re willing to brave the huge masses of people, this is a great place to go as there are many events, performances and lots of food vendors for you to enjoy all at once.
Yoyogi Kōen, Tokyo
I felt this park had a more relaxed feel to enjoy hanami; it was spacious with plenty of grassy areas to sit and wide walkways to walk beneath the rows and rows of blooms. It’s great for groups of friends and family to spend time together to celebrate the occasion of spring.
Funnily enough, we stumbled upon this place one evening whilst staring out the train window, on our way into the city. It’s actually a train stop along the Osaka loop line with a nearby river that’s lined with sakura trees.
Each day we returned, more Sakura appeared and you can imagine how beautiful everything looked in full bloom. It was by far my favorite spot throughout the entire trip!
Nara Koen (Deer Park), Nara
Nara is home to the bronze Buddha statue at Todai-ji temple. There is an entrance fee to the temple, but surrounding it is the deer park that’s scattered with so many sakura trees, you definitely should spend a day to explore and watch the funny antics of the deer that roam the area.
Arashiyama is more famous for its Bamboo Grove and the Inawata Monkey Park, if you’re looking for a place to hire traditional attire, this would be a good place to do it. There are many shops that rent kimonos for the day, and there will be plenty of cherry blossom trees as you walk along the streets.
(Not wearing a kimono was the only regret I had throughout my stay in Japan, and okay, maybe also not eating more bowls of their delicious ramen!)
Gion is a famous geisha district that brings you back to the olden days with its traditional buildings and walkways. With the blooming Sakura and a backdrop like that, it’s great for wedding shoots and photography in general.
I would have stayed longer to take more photos but a bird pooped on me (long story) so that put me off from standing underneath trees of any sort, for very obvious reasons.
Another hidden find for us when we ended up having to walk a fair bit of distance from the train station to the actual temple. Located a couple of blocks down the street from Kinkaku-ji, this food festival was situated right underneath a sky of white and pink cherry blossoms.
I can tell you that this was Jack’s absolute favourite spot because we sat down for a delicious Japanese barbecue with a bottle (or two) of warm saké to enjoy the stunning view above, exactly like how the locals did.
Himeji Castle, Himeji
Himeji is easily accessible by train if you’re in Osaka or Kyoto. Sakura trees are abundant within the grounds, but do prepare to line up during peak season if you’re planning a visit; we ended up having to stay in line throughout the entire castle tour and only had space to wander after we went outside onto the castle grounds.
*Himeji Castle and the surrounding castle grounds are a paid attraction.
There you have it, our favourite hanami spots out of the many places we covered. Experiencing hanami is something I would do again, even if it means braving the massive crowds who all share the same agenda as I do.
Do share your own hidden gems that you’ve come across in Japan, as I’m pretty sure I would be heading back in the near future!