Sakura season is just around the corner!
The Japan Meteorological Corporation recently released its first 2024 cherry blossom forecast, predicting that the start of the much-anticipated sakura season will be on 21 March in the cities of Aomori, Fukuoka, and Nagoya.
The blooming of the famous pink flowers will carry on well into May as Sapporo, the capital of the prefecture of Hokkaido– a.k.a. the coldest region in Japan–is projected to see sakura bloom by the 2nd of May.
If you are keen on witnessing the sight of Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms and wish to join in the fun of hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties or picnics), here are the activities you definitely mustn’t miss during sakura season:
Take a stroll in Shinjuku Gyoen
Regardless of the forecast, visitors of Shinjuku Gyoen can catch a glimpse of sakura between the months of February and April. This is because the park is dotted with over 60 varieties of flowering cherry trees—each with its own blooming period. For instance, the kanzakura, or winter cherry tree blooms, as early as February, while the Baigoji Juzukakezakura, or cherries of Baigo-ji Temple, only flowers towards the end of April. So if your long-planned trip to Tokyo falls before or after the predicted time frame of the city’s sakura season, don’t worry too much about missing out on the pretty pink blossoms because Shinjuku Gyoen might just have the picture-perfect sakura spot you went to Japan for!
Access: The nearest train stations to Shinjuku Gyoen are Shinjuku, Sendagaya, and Shinjuku-gyoemmae Stations. If you are coming from Shinjuku Station, take the southeast exit. The park is 10 minutes away on foot.
Join a cherry blossom cruise tour
For a limited time every year, the Osaka City Cruise Promotion Council operates the “Okawa Sakura Cruise,” which—as its name suggests—is a cruise tour down the 4.2-kilometer Okawa River. Lined by thousands of flowering cherry trees along the banks, Okawa River offers one of the most unique cherry blossom viewing spots in all of Osaka.
For announcements about this year’s Okawa Sakura Cruise, visit the official website of Osaka City Cruise.
Row a boat down Sumida River
River cruises can be really packed, especially during sakura season, so if you wish to enjoy a sentimental moment whilst basking in the view of cherry trees in the middle of a river, renting a boat to row down Sumida River in Tokyo is your best bet.
Here, you can ride the boat solo or with your springtime date (most boats can accommodate up to two people only). You’d also want to have your camera ready because the flowering chery trees bowing down towards the river present the some of the most stunning photo op backgrounds in the city.
Access: The entrance to Sumida Park is a five-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Ginza, Asakusa and Tobu Isesaki lines.
Have a taste of sakura mochi
You’ve probably tried mochi in different flavors before. But have you tried sakura mochi? If not, then this spring is the best time to have a taste of it!
This traditional Japanese sweet is a pink-colored rice cake filled with or rolled around anko (red bean paste). What makes this treat extra special, though, is how it is wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf that gives it a distinct yet balanced sweet-and-salty flavor.
Sakura mochi is usually made at home, but there are also stores throughout Japan that sell it. Among the most popular sakura mochi shops in Tokyo is Chomeiji Sakura Mochi, which is located near Sumida River. So if you went boating earlier, you know where to go next!
Location: Chomeiji Sakura Mochi, 5 Chome-1-14 Mukojima, Sumida City, Tokyo 131-0033
Sample limited-time sakura treats
Can’t get enough of sakura mochi? Well, Japan has A LOT of sakura-flavored treats, particularly during springtime. From sakura Pocky and KitKats to sakura soft-serve ice cream and beverages, everywhere you look, you’re almost certain to come across some form of sakura treat that you won’t find anywhere else, so don’t think twice and have a go at them!
Tip: You can pick up sakura snacks to take home with you from supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, and retail giants like Don Quijote.
Visit Sakuragi Shrine
If you find yourself in Chiba prefecture during your trip, you might want to stop by Sakuragi Shrine in Noda. Regarded as the oldest existing shrine in the city, it is a favorite cherry blossom viewing spot among locals. When you visit, don’t forget to obtain a sakura motif goshuin (stamp) on your goshuin-cho—a stamp or seal book that serves as proof of your pilgrimage.
Location: 210 Sakuradai, Noda City, Chiba Prefecture, 278-0032, Japan
Official Website: https://sakuragi.info/
Hop on a scenic train
The Kansai region’s beloved Sagano Romantic Train will take you on a 25-minute journey from Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokko Station, traversing the breathtakingly beautiful Hozukyo Ravine.
During spring, the train’s route flushes in pink as cherry blossoms bloom, treating travelers to postcard-worthy vistas of this side of Japan.
Seats are limited and are especially in demand from mid-March to early April, so if you’re adding this activity to your itinerary, make sure to book your tickets as soon as the dates for your intended visit go on sale!
Official Ticketing Website: https://www.sagano-kanko.co.jp/en/index.php
Feed deer under the cherry trees
Nara Park is stunning all year round, but even more so in springtime! Best known for being home to over a thousand deer, it invites parkgoers to feed the friendly creatures with biscuits while taking in the views of fully-bloomed sakura.
As the flowering season comes to an end, prepare to get showered with delicate pink petals whenever the soft spring breeze blows.
Access: Nara Park is a five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. Alternatively, you may take about a 20-minute walk from JR Nara Station.
Snap photos donning a kimono
When in Japan, don’t miss the opportunity to dress up and don a kimono! With fully bloomed cherry blossoms in your background, this is your chance to have the quintessential Japan trip photo taken!
Tip: Many rental shops provide not just clothing but also hair and makeup services so you can look camera-ready wherever you go.
Who said you can enjoy cherry blossoms only during the daytime? If you’re a night owl, then Yozakura or nighttime cherry blossom might be for you!
After sundown, cherry tree lanes turn all sorts magical as they are illuminated by traditional paper lanterns.
For the ultimate yozakura experience, head on over to the laid-back neighborhood of Nakameguro, where hundreds of flowering cherry trees line both sides of the 3.8-kilometer stretch of Meguro River. In early April, this district bursts into life as locals and tourists alike come together for the Nakameguro Sakura-matsuri, a festival held to celebrate the blooming of the sakura trees. Snap photos from Saikachi-bashi Bridge and Nanbu-bashi Bridge to capture the glowing canopy of Japanese cherry trees.
Access: Take the Toyoko or Hibiya Line and alight at Naka-Meguro Station. The neighborhood is a minute away on foot.
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***Featured image by Bagus Pangestu on Pexels via Canva