As the weather warms up, cherry blossoms start to bloom across Japan. We were very lucky when we went last year at the end of March-early April- our travel plans coincided exactly with the bloom times at most of the cities we visited. Here are our favorite spots for enjoying cherry blossoms – either for the vibe, the experience, or the photography.
1. Chidorigafuchi, Tokyo 千鳥ケ淵
What a picturesque moat, with beautiful sakura trees lining both sides! We rented a paddle boat and sat amidst the slowly falling petals. It sounds like a touristy things to do, but there were hardly any other people there when we went. One major bonus- the path around it was also lined with a ridiculous number of sakura trees. Towards the end of the season, as the petals start to gently fall and drift in the direction of the wind.. It is unreal. Think gently falling snow, but larger and pink, on a sunny day, and it smells amazing. To get there, we took the subway to Kudashita and walked a little bit. Just google map it to this location.
2. Philosopher’s walk, Kyoto 哲学の道
During cherry blossom season, this is packed, in a good way. There are a lot of little bridges for photo-ops. The crowds also make for lots of street vendors with food/knick-knacks, and awesome people-watching. They may not all be locals, but a good number of them are at least Japanese-speaking and probably from other parts of Japan. The path is very close to ginkaku ji (銀閣寺 / silver temple), if you were planning to check this out anyway. It is a little bit away from downtown- I think you could take a bus, but we were feeling lazy and just cabbed it that day.
3. Kenroku-en, Kanazawa 兼六園
One of the “three great gardens” of Japan, this is worth a visit even sans cherry blossoms. Note that they do charge an admission fee, and make sure to check park hours. We got there pretty late in the day and had to fly through the park within 1 hour.. Doable, but we could’ve definitely spent more time!
4. Hiroshima castle, Hiroshima 広島城
Among the many castles surrounded by sakura trees, I especially enjoyed this one, partly because it was a lot less crowded. The grounds are fairly small compared to some larger castles, and while there are visitors, there are also plenty of areas where you can take photos / picnic / just hang out with a beer in hand (All of japan is open-beverage!!! Hurrah, says the American).
5. Kyoto Botanical Gardens, Kyoto 京都府立植物園
Trees on trees on trees!!! There are just so many, and all different varieties too. We stumbled upon this gem while looking to kill some time in Kyoto, and it turned out to be one of our best discoveries!
6. Ueno Park, Tokyo 上野公園
While this may not be the best stop for scenic photography, I would still highly recommend it for the vibes. Lots of people bring food and beer and picnic under the trees. I have no idea how they actually get a spot, because it was so packed.. We walked through the park, and then sat down on the curb for a beer, people-watching more so than hanami-ing (yep, new word). There were street performers, people taking selfies, and friends hanging out. Just overall a very chill, jovial vibe.
7. Osaka Castle, Osaka 大阪城
The highlight is definitely the night-time hanami action. There are street performers, snacks, and again, picnickers. People seem to really like picnicking around here.
8. Miyajima 宮島
The architecture + cherry blossoms = the bomb dot com. Add a few deer (commonly found roaming this area, just somehow not in this picture), and it’s perfection.
9. Senso-ji, Tokyo 浅草寺
The cherry blossom trees here are by no means numerous, but you can play around with angles and get some interesting photos. Here, we have the Tokyo Skytree and also part of the senso-ji structure itself, accessorized by some sakura.
10. Hama Rikyu Garden, Tokyo 浜離宮恩賜庭園
This garden is right in the bustling city of Tokyo. It’s so interesting to know that there are busy streets out there and see the skyscrapers, and yet be completely immersed in the calmness of the park. There were quite a few other people strolling when we visited during a weekday morning- some elderly folks, some mom-and-child-in-stroller combos, and of course a few tourists.. but most of them looked like locals. I mean, why wouldn’t you? If I lived around here, I’d come here every day.
11. Nijo-jo, Kyoto 二条城
There is one section of the castle that is lined with all cherry blossom trees. If you were planning on heading to Kyoto anyway, make a quick detour at this place.
For exact dates this year, here is a useful guide for cherry blossoms forecast: http://www.jnto.go.jp/sakura/eng/index.php We would love to go to Japan again some day. What are your favorite hanami spots?