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  • Writer's pictureLily

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Japan Beyond Tokyo

Updated: Feb 29

As winter begins to bid farewell and spring emerges, a spectacular transformation of pink and white begins to blanket Japan. The arrival of spring marks the much-anticipated cherry blossom season, a season rich with historic and cultural significance. Sakura season is celebrated by people of all ages in Japan who gather to marvel at the fleeting beauty of delicate cherry blossoms. 


Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Inokashira Park
Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Inokashira Park

Millions of people worldwide also flock to Japan in March to witness this impressive natural phenomenon, swarming to Tokyo in search of the most Instagrammable Sakura spots, inadvertently creating overcrowded parks and streets.

However, the cherry blossom magic extends far beyond the bustling capital and takes place not only in March. Tokyo may boast some impressive locales in which the blossoms can be seen, but let's uncover a few of my favorite, lesserーknown locations. I will also share some tips on how to fully relish an enchanting and intimate hanami experience. 


Hanami, translating to 'flower viewing,' is a cherished Japanese tradition where people gather under cherry blossom trees to appreciate their beauty. Families and friends come together for picnics, fostering a sense of community and a deep connection to nature. I’ve often been invited to hanami events scheduled for April as early as January, with everyone looking forward and planning for the perfect flower-viewing event.



When can I enjoy the Cherry Blossom Season?

Every year in February, the Japan Weather Association releases the official cherry blooming schedule. This causes various news outlets to begin their coverage of the anticipated Sakura. However, the official calendar only accounts for the most popular varieties of cherry blossoms called the Somei Yoshino. They account for 70-80% of the trees you see in Japan. 


Pink lanterns line the Meguro River in Nakameguro during the Sakura Matsuri
The Sakura Matsuri during the peak of the cherry blossom bring in tens of thousands of visitors

While the official schedule is a good guide, it can also contribute to the crowding of parks. It also doesn’t give the full picture of the other impressive cherry blossoms that will also be in bloom across the country. The blooming periods start in different months, depending on the region and the variety of cherry trees.


January - Okinawa ushers in the New Year with Blossoms. 

While January might seem an unlikely time for cherry blossoms, from mid-January to mid-February, the islands of Okinawa are adorned with delightful dark pink blossoms, spreading joy throughout the region. Due to its subtropical climate, Okinawa takes the lead in Japan's festivities.



Explore Nakijin Castle, home to the finest Sakura Festival on the island, and at night, see the blooms illuminated against the backdrop of the castle walls. Here you can also learn about and witness Okinawan Native cultural performances.  


February - Kawazuzakura Lights up the Izu Peninsula 

Before moving to Japan, like others, I assumed that the blooming period typically happened around April. During my first year here, I was living in the Izu Peninsula, only two hours south of Tokyo, and to my surprise, I started to see fuchsia pink petals springing up in early February. I learned that these were Kawazu cherry blossom trees (Kawazuzakura), an early blooming tree that only grows in the Izu Peninsula. Witnessing these vibrant blooms amidst the winter chill was such a delight. 



Take a day trip from Tokyo to the Izu Peninsula in February. The towns of Kawazu and Kannami host the annual Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (Kawazuzakura Matsuri) along their riverbank, providing a fantastic start to the Sakura season.


March to April - The Main Event

March is the traditional peak season for cherry blossoms in Japan, and the month that most of the cherry tree varieties blossom. One of the most common varieties is Yamazakura, meaning "mountain cherry blossom",  which refers to a variety of cherry trees that grow in the wild all over Japan. While riding a train in the countryside, these can be seen clustered on mountaintops or along the side of the train tracks making your journey across Japan a scenic spectacle. 

The oldest Yamazakura tree in Japan is located in Fujinomiya, a town located at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Here you can see this ancient tree along with bright yellow flowers with Mt.Fuji in the background. 


Shidare-Zakura (weeping cherry trees) have drooping branches and are among the most common and beloved cherry trees in Japan. In the north of Kyoto, there is a Shidare-Zakura tunnel where you can walk under the weeping branches along the river, a truly magical experience. 


The star of the season is the Somei-Yoshino Sakura, with its stunning light pink petals. As mentioned earlier, this is the most popular tree in which people participate in Hanami, as these trees look almost too perfect. Unlike other types of cherry tree varieties, these blossoms appear without leaves. These are the trees that line the famous photo spots in Tokyo, but there are other places to witness these heavenly trees without the crowds. 


People enjoying a picnic in Yoyogi Park under the full blooming cherry blossoms.
Places like Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo will be packed full of people enjoying the Sakura!

The city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture is a perfect spot, nestled amongst the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto Castle is adorned with a breathtaking display of 300 Yoshino Sakura trees, creating a picturesque scene alongside the towering black castle. 



Considered one of Japan's three most beautiful landscape gardens, Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa is covered in Somei Yoshino in April. As the sun sets, the park undergoes a magical transformation by illuminations lighting up the pink petals, making the cherry blossoms sparkle into the night. 


May - Yaezakura Extends the Blooming Season

Extending the blossom season into May, Yaezakura, the flower with the most petals, typically blooms around late April into early May. A great place to view these bushy pink trees is at Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo. Once a feudal lord's duck hunting ground, Hamarikyu Gardens is a quiet oasis of nature amidst the bustling Tokyo. A cup of matcha can be enjoyed while overlooking the seasonal flowers here. 


Are there Alternatives to the Cherry Blossom Season?

If your travel plans don't align with the cherry blossom season, fear not – Japan's natural beauty is on display throughout the year. Autumn's vibrant foliage, known as Koyo, paints the landscapes in rich hues of red and orange. Plum blossoms, known as Ume, bloom in late winter, offering a beautiful prelude to the arrival of spring's cherry blossoms. Violet wisteria can be seen in May and vibrant hydrangeas bloom all over Japan in June and July. 



Planning your Hanami in Japan 

Cherry Blossom Season in Japan is more than just a visual spectacle; it's a cultural phenomenon deeply ingrained in the hearts of the Japanese people. If you are inspired by any of these locations, enquire about your dream trip and we can assist in making it happen. 


As you plan your visit with our guides, consider immersing yourself in the tradition of hanami outside of Tokyo and discovering Sakura off the beaten track. Whether you witness the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms or explore alternative seasons, Japan's natural wonders are bound to leave an indelible mark on your heart.

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