How to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan
Travelers are accustomed to seeing locals rush by indifferently as we fawn over the world’s most famous sights, but cherry blossom season in Japan is a special time for everyone. Wherever you go, you’ll find tourists and locals alike staring up and photographing the delicate pink blooms. Making the journey to Japan during this iconic season is worthwhile, but the peak blooms can be unpredictable, making timing tricky. Follow these tips to maximize your chances of seeing cherry blossoms in Japan next spring.
Follow the Cherry Blossom Forecast
Because cherry blossom season varies each year and throughout different regions, Japanese citizens follow the cherry blossom forecast like most do the weather.
The Japan National Tourism Organization website is a great resource to research the dates of past blooms and stay up-t0-date with season predictions. Cherry blossoms have been known to start budding as early as mid-March, but are typically gone before May. Keep in mind: Just like weather, the cherry blossom forecast isn’t always 100 percent correct.
Book as Soon as You Can
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the bloom of cherry blossom season, Japan sees its largest influx of tourists during this time, which means higher fares and booked-up hotels. If you want to make sure you get the best prices in the best locations, you should book as soon as you can.
Airlines like Air China, Asiana, and China Eastern offer round-trip flights to Tokyo in the spring for as low as $500 USD from the west coast. Because many of these flights connect through big hubs in China or South Korea, you can also find cheaper fares by flying into a smaller Japanese city like Nagoya or Osaka.
Stay a While
To improve your chances of seeing cherry blossoms in full bloom, plan for a longer trip. This will not only give you a little leeway if the blossoms are running late, but will also give you more time to explore other parts of Japan. Plus, having more time gives you freedom to change travel plans if you’re able to go to an alternative spot where the cherry blossoms have already sprung.
Get a Rail Pass
Whether it’s a castle, shrine, or temple, there are many places to spot cherry blossoms—but you won’t find them in the big cities. The quickest way to get around is by purchasing a rail pass. A seven-day, unlimited pass starts at about $350, and allows you to travel throughout Japan by bullet train. Keep in mind you must buy your rail pass online beforehand and activate it at the train station when you arrive
If zipping around the country by bullet train isn’t your thing, enjoy the cherry blossoms while taking it slow. There are cherry blossom-dotted trails throughout Japan, and going on a hike is one of the more special ways to experience the iconic season. For non-Japanese speakers, trails can be hard to navigate in rural areas: I suggest signing up for a tour with a company like Walk Japan, which offers regular and self-guided tours. Walking through higher elevations will also give you an opportunity to see any late-blooming trees in the mountains.
Seek Out Festivals
When the cherry trees bloom, all of Japan celebrates with public festivals. When the parks turn pink, you’ll find most of the population having a picnic under the best blooms. In Tokyo, you’ll find activities all-season long in Ueno Park. Other cites well-known for their cherry blossom festivals include Hirosaki and Fukushima. For one of the best spots to view Mount Fuji and snap a postcard-perfect shot of Japan in cherry blossom season, visit the popular Chureito Pagoda in Fujikawaguchiko.
Stay Up Late
Just because the sun goes down, doesn’t mean the blossom-viewing party is over. One of the best parts of visiting cherry blossoms in Japan is seeing them lit up after dark. Some of the best night-viewing spots are on the Meguro River in Tokyo and in Maruyama Park in Kyoto.