The blossoming of sakura, or cherry trees, starts as early as January in sub-tropical Okinawa, reaching Kyoto and Tokyo in late March or early April, and continuing northward toward Hokkaido – the northernmost of Japan’s four major islands – as late as May.
Just as weather varies from year to year, the blooming of cherry trees differs annually, as well. Following a mild winter, cherries will blossom earlier. If winter has been severe, they will blossom later. Dates can vary by as much as two weeks.
So important a role do cherry blossoms play in Japanese culture that the Japanese Meteorological Agency tracks the so-called Cherry Blossom Front as it moves northward. The front’s movement is reported following the weather report and is avidly followed by the
From the opening of the first flowers it takes about one week for cherry trees to reach full bloom. After another week, petals are falling off the branches, blanketing the landscape in pink. Heavy rains and strong winds can cut the season short.
Hanami – roughly translated as flower viewing – has been an important tradition in Japanese culture for centuries. Thousands of castles, private gardens, public parks, shrines, and temples across the country offer than an opportunity to engage in this practice.
What follows is a short list of some of the most popular spots in the country’s four most populous cities as well as Kyoto, the former capital, together with the estimated best viewing times according to the Japan Weather Association. (The first blossoms should appear approximately one week earlier.)
Admission is free unless otherwise noted.
2 April – 11 April
Maruyama Park is the most popular spot to view cherry blossoms in the former Japanese capital. The Philosopher’s Trail, which connects the Silver Paviliion with Nanzneji, is also lined with cherry trees. Located on the outskirts of Kyoto, Arashiyama Mountain has many cherry trees located as its base. A world heritage site, Daigoji Temple – located in southeastern Kyoto – holds a cherry blossom festival each year.
31 March – 9 April
There are numerous varieties of cherry trees in the park and along the moats surrounding Nagoya Castle (admission: 500 yen). The banks of the Yamazakigawa River are also a favoured spot for viewing cherry blossoms in Japan’s fourth largest city.
2 April – 11 April
The grounds of Osaka Castle are planted with more than 4,000 cherry trees. There are spacious grounds perfect for picnics! Kema Sakuranomiya and Expo 70 Commemorative parks both sport more than 5,000 cherry trees. The Osaka Mint Bureau has later blooming varieties – just in case you get there behind schedule.
30 March – 8 April
With more than 1,000 cherry trees, Ueno Park is one of the most popular spots to view cherry blossoms in the Japanese capital. Trees are lit up after dark. Shinjuku Green features more than 1,000 trees of more than 12 species. The moats of the former Edo Caslte in Kitanomaru Park are lined with cherry trees. It also is possible to view cherry blossoms from boats by the Sumida River, whose shores are lined with trees.
30 March – 8 April
With more than 1,000 cherry trees surrounding three ponds, Mitsuike Park is the best spot to view cherry blossoms in Japan’s second most populous city. Sankeien Garden – with its collection of historic buildings transplanted gfrom around the country – runs a close second (admission: 500 yen).
To celebrate its fifth anniversary, Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, will stage a Nihonbashi Gala Spring Performance by a group of geisha from Yoshi-cho on 4 April in the hotel’s ballroom. Cherry blossoms, other visuals, and moving images will adorn the walls.
Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: a group of geisha from Yoshi-cho will perform at the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo
Photo Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental