Japan’s cherry blossom season is serious business. The arrival of these beautiful flowers is anticipated and predicted with military precision, due to the fleeting nature of their existence. It’s an annual phenomenon that is as ephemeral as it is iconic. Usually the event only lasts for around two weeks in any given place, from first bloom to the final fallen petal.
We’ll tell you the best times to see cherry blossoms in Japan at all of the top locations, as well as some off-the-beaten-track recommendations by our local insiders.
When is Japan’s 2020 cherry blossom season?
While the official forecast isn’t out yet, Japan’s cherry blossom season generally starts in mid to late March, and lasts through to early May. However, different parts of the country experience sakura season at different times. The south begins sooner, while up in Hokkaido people can still see sakura petals falling long after they’ve faded in other parts of the nation. If you’re serious about planning your trip around blossoming times, consult the official sakura forecast.
Use last year’s times to give you a rough indication of when the best dates to see cherry blossoms in 2020 are. Looking for cherry blossoms in Tokyo? In 2019, the trees started blossoming on March 21, and reached full bloom around March 27.
List of 2019 cherry blossom dates
Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan
Tokyo is the biggest city in Japan, and as a result, it’s one of the most popular places to see cherry blossoms. There are a few major locations around the centre of the city that are guaranteed to have some spectacular viewing spots – and also some spectacular crowds.
We’d be remiss to tell you not to go to Tokyo just because it’s busy, though. It’s an amazing city full of contrasts, defined by hyper-modern conveniences and ancient traditions. It also has some of the most iconic cherry blossom viewing locations in all of Japan. Try to visit relatively early in the morning or during non-busy times.
Iconic viewing location(s): Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi, Inokashira Park
Off-the-beaten track option: Senzokuike Lake
Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto
Kyoto is ancient, scenic, and known for its beautiful natural surroundings. It’s also one of the most visited cities in Japan, to the point where there has been some local resistance to mass tourism due to the effects of overcrowding. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go to Kyoto, but it’s worth keeping in mind that many other people will have the same idea. Visiting a site like Kiyomizudera during sakura season is memorable, both for how beautiful it is and how many people there are – locals and visitors alike.
Nara is also beautiful, and slightly less-known than its western counterpart. It’s a 30-minute train ride away from Osaka, and is actually Japan’s oldest capital – holding the title before Kyoto had it. Known mostly for its plentiful roaming deer, not many people know it has a small scenic lake surrounded by cherry blossom trees. Seeing some of the country’s most ancient temples and monuments with blossoms all around them is stunning, and we highly recommend it.
Iconic viewing location(s): Kiyomizudera, Philosopher’s Walk, Yodogawa Riverside Park (Kyoto)
Off-the-beaten track option: Nara Park (Nara)
Prefectures in the north of Japan tend to experience cherry blossoms later, meaning they enjoy evenings of hanami while their southern neighbours are already getting their handheld fans and sweat towels ready for summer. Several northern prefectures also feature lower tourist numbers than more well-known locations, and since Hokkaido is most known for its wintertime activities, people often overlook that it’s secretly one of the best places to view cherry blossoms in the country.
Iconic viewing location(s): Moerenuma Park, Maruyama Park, Nijukken Road (Hokkaido).
Off-the-beaten track option: Goryokaku (Hakodate)
It’s hotter in the south, and cherry blossom season comes faster. The main benefit is that you’ll be among the first to see them in the whole country. The disadvantage is that they might be gone by the time everyone else gets them. When the sakura starts blooming in Kyushu, the rest of the nation knows that their turn will come soon.
Iconic viewing location(s): Nishi Park, Uminonakamichi Seaside Park (Fukuoka)
Off-the-beaten track option: Mt. Shiude (Kagawa)
Tips for cherry blossom viewing
- Do what the locals do: bring a picnic blanket or a tarp, and place it underneath the most majestic tree you can find
- Carry cash with you – many parks will have food vendors selling special seasonal snacks, who generally don’t accept credit cards
- Make sure you try as many limited edition sakura-flavoured products as possible
- Plan and book your trip well in advance for the best experience – spring is a popular time to visit Japan!
Looking to get inspired for your trip to Japan? Check out some of our other Japan-based posts for more information on cultural attractions, traditions, food, festivals and more!