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7 Tips For Sakura Viewing In Japan

Updated on January 6, 2017
CYong74 profile image

Cedric earned a bachelor's degree in communications studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video gaming.

7 tips for cherry blossom viewing in Japan.
7 tips for cherry blossom viewing in Japan. | Source
The Zensen is your most invaluable tool when playing your Sakura viewing trip.
The Zensen is your most invaluable tool when playing your Sakura viewing trip. | 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 is always accompanied by dates, it is the most useful tool for anyone scheduling 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, till reaching In the northern most island of Hokkaido in 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. But 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. Don't expect it to be completely accurate.

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 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

Sakuras represent renewal to the Japanese. That's because they are one of the first flowers of spring. The importance of this for travellers is that the days could still be chilly, with occasional showers, particularly if your trip is around the end of March. In 2015, there was a cold front. This saw light snowfall in the first week of April in cities like Matsumoto.

Therefore, 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 early in the morning. Or in the afternoon.

The Japanese love sakuras. 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.

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. But if it's an issue for you, go early in the morning. The afternoon is usually fine too. Alternatively, seek out less popular spots. A serene grove in a small park could be just as lovely.

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

4. Be flexible with accommodations during Sakura viewing season

Finding accommodation 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 Sakuras there. To get from the neighbouring city of Osaka to Kyoto, you merely need a 20 minute express train ride. If you have a railway pass, Yokohoma is but five minutes away from Tokyo by bullet train. What I'm saying is, don't fret if you can't book a room. Branch out in your hotel search. Japan has enough accommodations all over the country for everybody, even during Sakura season.

5. Sakuras 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 becomes the theme for everything during the hanami season; there is even sakura ice cream. A proper hanami trip should thus not just consists 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 one of the Miyako Odori Cherry Blossom festive dances. The elegance and gorgeous sets will blow you away. (More information about the dance here)

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 lit up for special night visits. The best of these are without a doubt the temples in Kyoto. Go at sunset, just as the sky begins to segue from orange to blue. Saunter your way down the atmospheric streets, perhaps picking up a snack or two along the way. For an extra touch, how about dressing up in traditional Japanese kimono too? Cities like Tokyo and Kyoto have plenty of special shops that offer such dress up services. A good many also provides professional photographers to follow you around. Simply google for "dress up in kimono" to discover the listings.

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 during Sakura viewing season light up.
Osaka Castle Nishinomaru Garden during Sakura viewing season light up. | Source

7. Take the chance to 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 these street food while watching the rest of the crowds breeze by. After which, it's 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 travellers.
Various Japanese street foods for hungry travellers. | Source

Keen to visit Japan during Sakura viewing season?

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Sakura Season in Tokyo

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    • CYong74 profile image
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      Cedric Yong 16 months ago from Singapore

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

    • Cheeky Kid profile image

      Cheeky Kid 16 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
      Author

      Cedric Yong 16 months ago from Singapore

      Thanks for your kind words, CTDA.

    • CTDASRIGH profile image

      CHRIS THOMPSON 16 months ago from MOBILE, ALABAMA

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