When spring comes, Japanese cherry blossoms start flourishing and locals and travelers step out the door to enjoy the bloom.
The bloom of cherry trees only last for up to two weeks in a year, but the very short life span is at the core of its appeal to the Japanese and hordes of springtime tourists. Breathtaking yet fleeting, cherry blossoms remind people to appreciate the beauty of impermanent things, whether it’s pretty flowers, the changing seasons, or life itself.
Chasing blossoming cherry trees is one of the best things to do in Japan. It’s such a popular activity—and has been for so long—that the Japanese even have a term for gazing at sakura flowers: hanami.
The Hanami Tradition
Hanami or “flower viewing” is a centuries-old Japanese tradition that involves watching the brief season of the sakura tree. The essence is the enjoyment of the flower’s lovely yet fleeting nature, catching and observing the sakura’s delicate beauty in the short time that it is around.
The ancient custom is mainly associated with the Japanese cherry blossom tree, but it occasionally refers to plum trees, as well. It is believed to date back to the 8th or 9th century, starting out with people admiring plum blossoms, then eventually becoming more synonymous with cherry blossoms.
Nowadays, hanami is a general term for people enjoying the blooming of the cherry blossoms in Japan. It could be as simple as strolling on an empty path by yourself and gazing at the pink canopy. For most locals, it involves a fun get-together or picnic under the shade of pretty cherry trees.
Due to the practice of hanami, plenty of popular parks or viewing areas get quite crowded during spring with so many people flocking outdoors for the best views of sakura flowers. Some simply lay a blanket on the ground bringing a few snacks and drinks, while others go all out with tables, chairs, barbecues, and the works. It’s also common to simply go out to eat al fresco in a well-positioned restaurant.
The celebrations for hanami vary from person to person. Ultimately, the most important factor is not how you enjoy hanami, but where and when.
The Best Places To See Cherry Blossoms
There are many places in Japan for hanami, but arguably the most famous spot for appreciating cherry trees is Mt. Yoshino in Nara Prefecture. Stand at the peak, which overlooks the dense pink carpet of 30,000 cherry trees in bloom at the mountainside. It’s said that the oldest trees in the area are more than a thousand years old.
Visit the Marayuma Park in Kyoto, a park famous for the massive weeping cherry tree, which gets illuminated at night. In Tokyo, the best neighborhood for the sakura season is Nakameguro where a waterway running through the area is lined with cherry blossoms.
Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi is the second largest of the Fuji Five Lakes and it’s an excellent place for observing cherry blossoms. The pink trees frame the sublime Mt. Fuji beautifully, offering a unique glimpse of the famous mountain.
Book a Mt. Fuji day tour from Tokyo via KKday to experience Lake Kawaguchi, as well as other tourist spots Fugaku Wind Cave and Narusawa Ice Cave.
Sakura Season In 2020
Cherry blossoms are only around for about two weeks a year, which makes scheduling a trip a little bit like catching lightning in a bottle. In 2020, the first bloom appears a little earlier than usual, according to the Japan Meteorological Corporation’s forecast.
Tokyo and Kochi will see the first sakura bloom on March 19, while Fukuoka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka will follow in the next few days over the following week. The first cherry blossoms will appear to other parts of Japan in early to mid-April, including Kanazawa and Nagano.
Enjoy hanami with a day tour to the northern part of Okinawa, which includes cherry blossom viewing.
*Featured image via via Sean Pavone via Shutterstock