From Hirosaki to Kyoto: Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Destinations in Japan
Updated: Aug 1
The cherry blossom season in Japan is such a time-honored ritual that the very act of enjoying it has a name of its own: Hanami. Literally translated as "viewing flowers," Hanami refers to the 1,000-year-old tradition of visiting the areas in which cherry blossoms (Sakura), the most prevalent, and plum blossoms (Ume) are on display. In the distant past, aristocrats would gather under the pink umbrella of cherry blossoms to write or paint poetry. In contrast, today, Hanami is about getting together with loved ones and picnicking at the first signs of spring.
When to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Visiting Japan during the cherry blossom season requires forethought and planning. Trees bloom at different times throughout the spring, so travelers should come armed with a sense of flexibility and hope for luck. Generally, one can expect cherry blossom festival season to begin around the end of March and last for about two weeks, with some blooms continuing until May the farther north you travel. However, some early-blooming locations may celebrate as early as January or February. If you are hoping to visit a particular region or festival, research when the blooms appeared in the past 5 to 10 years, plan accordingly, and hope for the best.
As a guideline, Okinawa blooms can be seen as early as January, with a peak in late March through April in the Honshu region. Hokkaido typically sees blooms throughout May, while trees in Tokyo and Kyoto bloom between March and April.
Pro Tip: You can tell the difference between Sakura and Ume blossoms in the following ways:
Cherry blossoms are split or notched in each petal; plum flowers do not have this notch.
Cherry blossoms have multiple flowers per bud; plum flowers have just one flower per bud.
When cherry leaves are new, they’re green in color; plum tree leaves have a purple or red hue.
In general, plum blossoms come out earlier in the season (mid-February to mid-March), with cherry blossoms experiencing their peak in April.
Where to See the Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Perennially popular cherry blossom viewing spots include Maruyama Park, Mount Yoshino, Himeji Castle, and Fuji Five Lakes. Still, the lesser-known public parks and riverbanks often make for the most peaceful and memorable viewing.
Depending on your particular cruise or land tour itinerary, stops may include:
Hirosaki Castle Park (Hirosaki)
Blossom seekers won’t be alone at Hirosaki Castle Park, commonly known as one of the top cherry blossoms viewing spots in Japan. The crowds are well worth it for the distinctive setting—the grounds of a 400-year-old castle—where pink blossoms fall into the castle’s moats. Rent a boat and row through the mesmerizing scene.
Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
Wander the lush lawns, weaving through more than 1,000 cherry trees. Here you will find both early-blooming trees and late-bloomers. If you have missed the main Sakura-matsuri festivals throughout the country due to the timing of your trip, Shinjuku Gyoen is a prime spot for "shoulder" season viewing. Tokyo's high-rises that surround the park complement the ethereal nature of the blooming trees.
Mitsuike Koen (Yokohama)
Another top cherry blossom viewing area, Mitsuike Park in Yokohama, offers three ponds and more than a thousand cherry trees. Admission is free.
Chureito Pagoda (Fuji Five Lakes)
Photographers flock to Fuji Five Lakes for the iconic view of cherry trees in bloom against the backdrop of Mount Fuji. The stunning Chureito Pagoda appears as if floating above a canopy of cherry blossoms. For the best lighting conditions, visit in the early morning.
Expo 70 Commemorative Park (Osaka)
Once the site of the 1970 World Exhibition, this park is now home to more than 5,000 cherry trees. Stroll along the tree-lined paths, immersed in one of the country’s highest concentrations of blooms.
Miharu Takizakura (Fukushima)
Whereas other parts have thousands of cherry trees, what makes Miharu Takizakura special is its lone tree. Translated as "Waterfall Cherry tree," the Takizakura is considered one of Japan's three greatest cherry trees and is thought to be more than 1,000 years old. Find it on a hillside outside Miharu Town in Fukushima Prefecture.
Takato Castle Park (Nagano)
Typically listed as one of the top three places to see cherry blossoms in Japan, Takato Castle Park in Nagano lights up with a lively festival, activities, and evening illuminations. While enjoying the sight of more than 1,500 pink Kohigan cherry trees in all their splendor, take time to explore the historic Takato Castle ruins.
Mount Yoshino (Nara)
History buffs will want to journey to Mount Yoshino in Nara, where the first cherry trees were planted more than 1,300 years ago. Today, there are over 30,000 cherry trees of various types and blossom colors. The grounds are dotted with shrines, temples, and parks for all to enjoy.
Okayama Korakuen Garden (Okayama)
The Shogun created Korakuen, another park in the top three, as a welcoming space to host VIP visitors. Between the garden and the adjacent 16th-century Okayama Castle, there are 500 cherry trees to enjoy.
Nishi Park (Fukuoka)
Come for more than 1,000 cherry trees; stay for the stunning view of Hakata Bay, Nokonoshima Island, and Shikanoshima Island. Throughout the spring, the park has a festival feel with blossom-lined pathways, food stalls, and an observation platform for getting the best photo opportunity of Fukuoka.
Philosopher’s Path (Kyoto)
Follow the stone-lined Philosopher’s Path through Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The 1.25-mile path meanders along a canal lined with hundreds of cherry trees and was a favorite of Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitara, who used to walk and meditate here amongst the pink, red, and white blossoms each spring.
Regardless of how one travels to Japan between January and May, there’s a high likelihood of catching the cherry blossoms in bloom at some point throughout the journey. Land tours and cruise excursions aim to capture the peak season to the best of their ability. However, the under-the-radar, unexpected Hanami locations are sure to delight, perhaps even more so than the tried-and-true Sakura spots.
Plan your journey to coincide with the cherry blossom season and create memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you prefer a land tour or a cruise excursion, our expert team is here to help you make the most of this magical time in Japan. So, let's chat and start planning your dream cherry blossom adventure today!