Viewing the beautiful and famous cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan is towards the top of many Japan bucket lists and rightfully so. We’ve traveled to Japan several times and the first time we timed our travel dates to visit Tokyo during peak cherry blossom season. If you are looking for guidance on when is the best time to visit Japan for cherry blossoms, here are some tips to help you plan your trip.
When is the Best Time to Visit Japan for Cherry Blossoms?
Cherry blossom season varies from year to year due to weather and other factors and reach different parts of Japan on different dates. The cherry blossoms usually reach full bloom at the end of March or early April in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. The flowers bloom from the south to the north of Japan – starting as early as January in Okinawa and as late as early to mid May in Hokkaido.
The cherry blossoms typically reach full bloom about a week or two after they first open so your time to see the flowers in a specific destination is short. The Japan Meteorological Corporation releases several forecasts each year in the months preceding cherry blossom season to help you plan your trip. The forecasts estimate the dates the flowers are expected to open and reach full bloom throughout Japan.
What Does Cherry Blossom Viewing Entail?
Celebrating the cherry blossoms is a big production in Japan and locals and tourists head to parks, gardens and riverbanks for some cherry blossom viewing (hanami). Hanami invoives anything from a daytime picnic in the park to a sake fueled party beneath the trees. Some parks have festivals with food stalls. In some places the festivities continue into the evening and the trees are lit up at night.
Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
You can see the cherry blossoms throughout Japan, but Tokyo is a convenient place for most visitors to Japan to see the cherry blossoms. We also saw cherry blossoms while walking around in Kyoto, but our focus when planning our trip was on seeing the cherry blossoms in Tokyo. Two of the best places in Tokyo to see the sakura include Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden so we spent time at both spots.
Ueno Park was very crowded and has more of a party vibe. The blossoms here open up a bit earlier than other parts of Tokyo so this might be a good spot to see them if you get to Tokyo a few days earlier.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden was not crowded when we visited. There is an entrance fee and alcohol and loud music are not allowed so it is a more peaceful and relaxing spot for hanami. The garden has many early and late blooming cherry trees so you can see the cherry blossoms here even if you miss the peak cherry blossom season. We both preferred Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden over Ueno Park because we don’t enjoy crowds and it is a really beautiful park even without the cherry blossoms.
Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Kawazu is located on the Izu Peninsula and is one of the earliest spots to see the cherry blossoms close to Tokyo. The cherry blossoms usually reach full bloom in Kawazu around late February to early March (weeks earlier than Tokyo).
You can reach Kawazu from Tokyo by train in about 2.5 hours so you can do a day trip if you are in Tokyo a few weeks ahead of its cherry blossom season.
Fuji Five Lakes region
The cherry blossoms reach full bloom in mid April in the Fuji Five Lakes region so if you missed the cherry blossoms in Tokyo you can make a day trip here to see the flowers with Mt. Fuji in the background.
You can reach Lake Kawaguchiko in about 1.5 hours by car or less than 3 hours by bus from Tokyo. There are also day tours from Tokyo to this area.
Kyoto is also another convenient place for seeing the cherry blossoms and cherry blossoms start opening a day or two behind Tokyo. You can see cherry blossoms at some temples you might be visiting anyway including Kiyomizudera and Heian Shrine.
The Philosopher’s Path from Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) to Nanzen-ji temples is one of the best spots to see cherry blossoms in Kyoto. Maruyama Park (near Yasaka Shrine) has a large weeping cherry tree and is a popular spot for hanami parties.
Himeji Castle is another popular spot to see the cherry blossoms and is about an hour outside of Kyoto.
More Places in Japan to See the Cherry Blossoms
If you are looking for more recommended places to see the cherry blossoms, this website has a great list of the best places to see the cherry blossoms in Japan.
Tips for Seeing the Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Make Travel Plans in Advance
Cherry blossom season is peak travel season in Japan so flights and hotels tend to fill up quickly. If you know your travel plans, don’t wait to book your trip. If you can find award availability, this is a good time to use your miles and points since it will be difficult to find bargains on paid travel.
Wake Up Early for Good Photos
Parks tend to be more crowded on the evenings and weekends when locals are not working. If you want to take good photos of the flowers without a lot of people, visit the parks first thing in the morning and preferably on a weekday.
Take a Day Trip Out of Town
The cherry blossoms bloom on different dates in different parts of Japan. If the cherry blossoms bloom much earlier or later than anticipated and are outside of your travel dates, consider taking a train, bus or tour out of Tokyo or Kyoto for the day to visit another Japanese destination where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
For example, if you find yourself in Tokyo well ahead of cherry blossom season you can take a day trip to Kawazu. If you visit Tokyo after cherry blossom season take a bus or tour to the Fuji Five Lakes region and see the cherry blossoms with Mt. Fuji in the background.
Taking the train in Japan is very easy. To research train schedules, check out the hyperdia website. Rome2rio is also helpful for looking up all the transportation options.
Have you seen the cherry blossoms in Japan and if so where?
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I wasn’t aware the viewing period is so short for these cherry blossoms.
Fantastic photos! I have absolutely fallen in love with the scenic beauty from your pictures. I was looking to visit a east asian country for my next vacation and Japan is now on my bucket list. Thank you!
Hi Patti and Matilda,
I just wanted to let you know that your post was the inspiration behind my own take on visiting the Cherry Blossoms in 2020 – https://blog.byond.travel/japan-cherry-blossoms-ultimate-guide/
The Cherry Blossoms are definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity that everyone should experience. Wishing both of a you a very happy new year and an awesome 2020 🙂