7 Tips for Sakura Viewing in Japan

Updated on December 5, 2017
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Japanophile Cedric survived 10 solo trips to Japan. His visits now focus on discovering the country’s lesser known attractions.

7 tips for cherry blossom viewing in Japan.
7 tips for cherry blossom viewing in Japan. | Source

1. Before All Else, Refer to the Sakura Zensen

The Sakura Zensen (桜前線), or the Cherry Blossom Front, refers to the advancing of cherry blossoms across Japan. As it provides estimated dates of full blossoming, it is the most useful tool for anyone planning a Sakura viewing trip. Typically, the first blooms appear in the southern-most areas of Kyushu Island around late March. The blooms then advance northwards, reaching the northernmost island of Hokkaido around the middle of May.

The dates of the Sakura Zensen is thus what your travel period should be based on. That said, there is no need to obsess over it. The Zensen highlights the mankai, or full blossoming days at each key city. Missing mankai hardly means you miss everything. While sakura blossoms have notoriously short lives, they do still stay on the trees for at least a few days. Also, the Sakura Zensen is ultimately just a forecast. It is never completely accurate.

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Depending on your destination, a sakura viewing trip could be in March, or in May.Sakura at mankai. Or full bloom.
Depending on your destination, a sakura viewing trip could be in March, or in May.
Depending on your destination, a sakura viewing trip could be in March, or in May. | Source
Sakura at mankai. Or full bloom.
Sakura at mankai. Or full bloom. | Source

Missed Mankai?

Remember, sakura blossoms don't just stay on the trees for one day. You'll do nothing but drive yourself crazy if you try to hit each city in your itinerary on mankai days.

2. Be Prepared for Wet Weather and Occasional Chills

Sakura represents renewal to the Japanese, due to them being one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. For travelers, this means that sakura viewing days are likely to still be chilly, with occasional showers, especially if your trip is around the end of March. To give an example, in 2015, a cold front resulted in light snowfall in the first week of April. Matsumoto was one of the cities affected.

Therefore, always be flexible with your itinerary. Be ready to swap for indoor destinations should you wake up to horrid weather. Take note too that heavy rain is a menace to the blossoms. Nothing sweeps them off the trees more effectively than an hour of splattering. You might want to head for somewhere else if your destination had just been hit by heavy rain.

3. Go in the Early Morning or Afternoon

The Japanese adore sakura. So does the rest of the world. What to make of this? Crowds. Huge crowds. Especially during the evening when Japanese office workers gather for their beloved hanami drinking parties underneath the blooms.

Personally, sakura viewing crowds have never bothered me too much. The Japanese are renowned for being orderly and there are so many cherry trees around. On the other hand, if it bothers you, try going as early as possible. The afternoon is usually fine too. Alternatively, seek out less popular spots. A serene grove in a small park could be just as lovely.

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Early morning serenity at Hiroshima's Shukkeien.Mid afternoon serenity at Kanazawa's Kenrokuen.
Early morning serenity at Hiroshima's Shukkeien.
Early morning serenity at Hiroshima's Shukkeien. | Source
Mid afternoon serenity at Kanazawa's Kenrokuen.
Mid afternoon serenity at Kanazawa's Kenrokuen. | Source

4. Be Flexible With Accommodations

Finding accommodations in tourist hot spots like Kyoto could be a real challenge during Cherry Blossom season. Typically, Kyoto is near fully booked by early February.

To circumvent this, secure your reservations as early as possible. If you can't, remember that Japan has one of the best transportation systems in the world. You don't actually have to stay in Kyoto to view the sakura there, neighboring Osaka is but a 20-minute express train ride away. What I'm saying is, don't fret if you can't book a room. Branch out during your hotel search. Japan has enough accommodations all over the country for everybody, even during sakura season.

Japan has all a wide range of accommodation for all budgets.
Japan has all a wide range of accommodation for all budgets. | Source

5. Sakura Are Not Just on the Trees

That's right. They are found everywhere. As adornments on clothes and souvenirs, as props in performances, and even as food ingredients. Sakura become the theme for everything during the hanami season; there is even sakura ice cream and sakura tofu. A proper hanami trip should therefore not just consist of visits to the parks, you should also take the chance to experience sakura culture in other aspects of Japan. One suggestion. If in Kyoto, try to attend a Miyako Odori Cherry Blossom festival dance. (Be sure to check performance schedule in advance). The elegance and gorgeous sets will blow you away.

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Sakura tofu."Sakura" rice ball. (?) Think it's the leaf that's from the Sakura tree.
Sakura tofu.
Sakura tofu. | Source
"Sakura" rice ball. (?) Think it's the leaf that's from the Sakura tree.
"Sakura" rice ball. (?) Think it's the leaf that's from the Sakura tree. | Source

6. Don't Miss the Special Night Illuminations

This is my personal favourite. To celebrate the blooms, places that are usually closed at sunset are illuminated for special night visits. The best of these are, without a doubt, the historical temples in Kyoto.

Go at sunset, just as the sky begins to segue from orange to blue. Saunter your way down the atmospheric streets, picking up a snack or two along the way, then enter the ancient temples. For an extra touch, how about dressing up in a traditional Japanese kimono too? Cities like Tokyo and Kyoto have plenty of specialty shops providing dress-up services. A good many also provide professional photographers to follow you around. If you’re interested, simply google "dress up in kimono" to discover the listings.

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Kyoto's famous Kiyomizu Zaka during the sakura season festive light-up.Osaka Castle Nishinomaru Garden.
Kyoto's famous Kiyomizu Zaka during the sakura season festive light-up.
Kyoto's famous Kiyomizu Zaka during the sakura season festive light-up. | Source
Osaka Castle Nishinomaru Garden.
Osaka Castle Nishinomaru Garden. | Source

7. Sample Some Japanese Street Food

Popular cherry blossom viewing spots have plenty of surrounding stalls selling tidbits and street food. Famous snacks like takoyaki and kushikatsu are staples. There would also be more exotic foodstuffs like roasted bamboo spouts and soft shell crab bits. In my opinion, the perfect way to end a sakura viewing excursion would be to sample some of the street food while watching the rest of the crowds stroll pass. After which, it's off to the next hanami destination or an elaborate dinner. Or perhaps a slow, relaxing onsen soak, back at your ryokan.

Various Japanese street foods for hungry travelers.
Various Japanese street foods for hungry travelers. | Source

Keen to visit Japan during sakura viewing season?

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    • CYong74 profile image
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      Cedric Yong 20 months ago from Singapore

      Hey Cheeky Kid. Hereby wishing you get to go Hanami soon!

    • Cheeky Kid profile image

      Cheeky Kid 20 months ago from Milky Way

      I've always to go to Japan just to do this. Sakura Viewing, that is! When the time comes, I'll try all your tips. I wish soon.

    • CYong74 profile image
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      Cedric Yong 20 months ago from Singapore

      Thanks for your kind words, CTDA.

    • CTDASRIGH profile image

      CHRIS THOMPSON 20 months ago from MOBILE, ALABAMA

      Great Hub! Photos are stunning and you list down great tips here! Thanks for sharing a useful information.

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