The sakura（桜 ）or the cherry blossom is one of the symbols of Japan. In fact, it is pictured on the 100-yen coin! Known to bloom in late April to early March, the sakura tree blossoms are something you would definitely want to see if you ever visit the country. That is why all of the plane tickets to Japan are super expensive during this time.
While you are there – ‘hanami’ (花見), or picnicking under a sakura/ume tree is a must to do with coworkers, family and friends.
Starting in the early 8th century, the fabulous tradition of hanami still remains today, and it is just as popular as it was back then.
Influenced by Buddhism, the blooming of the sakura symbolizes clouds and/or life.
There are more than 200 varieties of sakura trees – they differ in petal shape, color, tree shape and branch structure.
The hanami season differs each year so make sure to check out the blooming times in your specific area from the website below or the Japanese Metrological agency:
Chidori-ga–fuchi (Chiyoda, Tokyo)
Known as the most recommended place to do your first hanami, the Chidori-ga-fuchi is an excellent spot to try out for your first time!
Containing over 250 sakura trees, this blooming area is located next to the Imperial Palace (which is really pretty during spring as well – so you can pop in later if you want).
You will find a beautiful gate you have to enter before proceeding to the walkway/alley full of snow-white sakura. Keep in mind that there are many color and shape variations and this is just one of them out there.
Another good feature in Chidori-ga-fuchi is the boat and the pond: you can rent a boat and swim along the sakura petals which is really romantic and pretty at the same time.
This is also a nice place to visit if you are keen in photography, but if you want to view the place – there is no problem either.
Chidori-ga-fuchi is not park-centered, it is more pond-centered: ie there are trails around the park, but there is no big vast space so be careful if you are planning to hanami. It is also good to note that the queues for the boats are usually very long so it is better to plan ahead and reserve a spot with a specific time. LED lights are turned on at night – it is one of the many places where you can continue the hanami experience even at night.
Ueno Park (Ueno, Tokyo)
Let me tell you – if you haven’t experienced hanami in the Ueno Park, then its fair to say that you haven’t experienced hanami at all! Known as the most famous spot in the whole of Tokyo for hanami, the Ueno Park was there for its visitors since the early Edo times.
Containing more than a thousand cherry trees, this amazing park gives off a nice vibe/atmosphere as soon as you walk in (the entrance fee is free).
However, there is something you should note: Ueno Park is as popular as it is crowdy. Extreme emphasis on the “crowdy”.
Some people even camp overnight to reserve a spot for the day – it is usual to see a “placeholder” waiting alone for the rest of the crew to come along.
I think that even though it is quite crowdy – it adds to the general atmosphere and the thrill of spring, so for me – I didn’t even mind the crowds when I visited there.
Another one of the “night hanami” places – lanterns illuminate the trails and walks so you can continue your picnic/mini-festival for as long as you like! It is truly beautiful when the sakura blossoms and petals are illuminated by lanterns of all sorts.
Apart from the hanami and sakura trees, the park contains boats, ponds, lakes and also includes the Kaneji temple which used to be the most wealthiest temple back then in the Edo times. And without doubt – the Ueno Zoo (however I do advise to visit the zoo on a separate day if it caught your interest)
If you are interested, check the Ueno sakura matsuri.
Yoyogi Park (Harajuku/Yoyogi, Tokyo)
Similar to Ueno Park, the Yoyogi Park is one of the largest of its kind in Tokyo and is also a popular place to go for a hanami during the sakura season.
This region is also crowded quite a lot as it is close to Harajuku. Some people find Yoyogi Park more special as you can sometimes see cosplayers and Lolita fashion people observing sakura trees/having their own hanami as well. (In short, many people from the Harajuku Bridge visit the place). This is what makes Yoyogi special, as you wouldn’t see such things in other regions of Tokyo.
It does make it a bit better than Ueno as it isn’t as busy and it’s a bigger park with many different attractions as well.
Apart from hanami, many people practice instruments and rehearse in Yoyogi Park to not disturb their neighbors. (This is a common practice in Japan)
Meguro River (Yokohama/Tokyo, Tokyo)
Moving on to another popular hanami place – the Meguro River is as the name suggests a beautiful river throughout the year in all seasons.
Containing more than 800 sakura trees around its riverbank, the spot is quite popular for people living in Yokohama and Tokyo.
Like Ueno and Chidori-ga-fuchi, many lanterns are put up during night; so many couples go on romantic walks along the river at midnight.
This place is especially busy on a Friday night after everyone finishes their job, but it would be better to go during the weekdays as it gets crowdy on weekends.
This short walk features pink and white cherry blossoms, as well as food for tourists and visitors in booths (and good restaurants) along the way. I think this is a good place to spend time on with couples.
If you are interested, you can check out the Meguro River sakura matsuri as well.
Inokashira Park (Inokashira, Tokyo)
Containing the soruse of the Kanda River, the Inokashira Park is a popular place during the hanami season since early Edo times. Situated next to the Studio Ghibli Museum, this park is considered to be in the top 10 hanami places in the whole of Tokyo.
Similar to the Ueno Park: ie containing a park and a zoo, the Inokashira isn’t as crowdy – but it certainty as enjoyable as the rest.
Cherry trees surround the paths around the pond and deep in the park so you will always find a good spot to go hanami here (the spaces aren’t wide however). Again, paddleboats can be rented and used across the pond (free entry which is quite good).
I recommend visiting Inokashira Park during the weekends – there are many street entertainers and Sunday markets.
If you are attending with kids, you can pop into the Inokashira Zoo, which is quite famous and well known around the area.
Shinjuku Gyoen (Shinjuku, Tokyo)
Featuring many different Japanese and international gardens, Shinjuku Gyoen is definitely in the top 3-5 hanami places in Tokyo. Containing many ponds and walking paths, Shinjuku Gyoen is an excellent place to visit during the sakura season even if you aren’t planning to do some hanami.
Known for its vast wide space, you will always find a seat for hanami – except it’s always really crowdy, which is a disadvantage.
However, the park does have some advantages: the place has traditional ponds so if you are looking for some Japan culture photos – it would be the perfect place to visit. It is next to the Metropolitan Tower – you can go up to the observatory and take a picture of all of the sakura scenery below (which turns out amazing).
The biggest advantage is that the sakura trees at Shinjuku Gyoen usually bloom two weeks after the Tokyo season so if you didn’t have a chance or if you want to try again – you can always do hanami take 2!
Also the fact that the park isn’t far away from Isetan so you can pop in and grab some food/hanami bento in the basement food floor.
However, do know that alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed (which can be a bit disappointing), but at the same time you can visit with children perfectly safe.
Philosopher’s Path (Kyoto)
Enough about Tokyo – Kyoto is just as appealing when it comes to hanami!
The Philosopher’s Path (sounds like something from Harry Potter right?) is actually a path you can take which starts at the famous Silver Pavilion. It is actually named after a famous Kyoto University Professor who used to walk there daily and think about different findings.
Moving back to the path itself – it is without doubt one of the most famous spots for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto.
Featuring many maple and cherry trees alongside a beautiful river/canal, it is breathtakingly stunning! There are also many different shrines along the path and restaurants/information for visitors and tourists. You can pop into their hanami matsuri for more fun if you are interested!
Although I must say – even apart from the hanami season, this path is always a delightful place to visit in Kyoto.
Okazaki Canal (Okazaki, Kyoto)
Another one of those “canal and cherry blossoms on riverbank” type attractions – the Okazaki Canal is most famous during its sakura season.
Situated next to the Heian shrine from which you can take a boat tour down the canal, this is a popular tourist and local cherry blossom attraction you can try out!
If you don’t fancy a boat tour, you can always take the walk path along the canal and have a nice chill among the sakura trees.
Photographers are keen on the area as millions of sakura petals fall into the canal and could be seen covering the surface of the water (the boat itself is old-fashioned which adds to the atmosphere of the place).
The Okazaki Canal is in the Top 15 of Kyoto’s best cherry blossom sightings and is a place I would recommend to visit during the hanami season.
Kiyomizudera (Kiyomizudera, Kyoto)
Kiyomizudera, the famous temple complex – one of the most popular/well-visited temples in all of Kyoto and even Japan!
Owned by a shogun, the place is filled with sakura trees blossoming all around. The main attraction however is the sakura view from the famous Kiyomizu wooden stage. You can stand on the 13-14m wooden stage and observe the beautiful sakura scenery below you.
The place isn’t really for hanami I guess, but it is stunning for plain sight seeing and photography!
There are many beautiful ponds and maple trees scattered throughout the complex as well so its really nice to go for a day walk if you fancy.
Even though the sakura season is really one of the peaks of Kiyomizudera, the place is popular and beautiful throughout the whole year and doesn’t seize to amaze its visitors!
Last but not least, the scenic beauty of Arashiyama is known well throughout Kyoto. Although it might be considered to be popular from its vast bamboo forest, its cherry blossom attraction isn’t less well known either.
The majority of the visitors recommend to take boat rides or to take a tram to visit the more rural areas of Arashiyama (as it is quite touristic- so if you don’t fancy some crowds you can go into the more “local” area).
Everywhere you go there is blooming sakura trees, which is what’s so nice about this area. You don’t have to go far to see the beauty of the place during the hanami season!
In particular, the temples and the surrounding scenery is quite popular among the visitors, but the Zen Shrine on the top of the mountain is well visited as well.
Lanterns illuminate the night streets making it a good place of a night/midnight walk.
In conclusion, hanami is definitely one of the things you should put down for your bucket list if you are ever planning to visit Japan. Of course the plane tickets are more expensive than usual which has its disadvantages, but the event is definitely stunning and is amazing to see!
Many places offer hanami picnic places – so you don’t even have to go to the top 50 to have a good time! Just go to a local park, find your sakura tree and as weird as it sounds – celebrate the coming of spring!
Have a great hanami time☺