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During the spring thousands of people travel to Japan for a chance to view the country’s beautiful cherry blossoms. The Japanese also look forward to sakura, which is Japanese for cherry blossom, and celebrate the spring during this time. Spring represents a fresh start and Hanami, or traditional viewing parties, are popular among the Japanese.
Sakura is a symbol of beauty, life, and mortality. The blossoms serve as a reminder that life is beautiful but also short. After they reach full bloom, they last about two weeks and then disappear in the wind. It’s important to carefully plan your travel to Japan if you wish to see the cherry blossoms. Here is when and where to see cherry blossoms in Japan:
When to See Cherry Blossoms
The sakura season begins mid to late March and usually lasts through the end of April. It’s important to pay attention to the updated weekly forecast since it can and occasionally does change. Locations with milder climates and areas of southern Japan usually bloom first.
Areas that experience cooler temperatures usually bloom toward the end of the season. The first cherry blossom forecast for 2020 was published on January 23rd. The blossoms are expected to start opening a few days earlier than normal this year. The following are estimated dates for blossom opening/full bloom for 2020, according to Japan Web Magazine:
Where to see Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks. It’s also one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Japan. It’s located in Shinjuku and is just a short 10-minute walk from the JR Shinjuku Station. The sprawling, 144-acre public park is a top cherry blossom viewing destination. It’s home to over 1000 cherry trees and has over 40 different varieties.
Most of the trees bloom from late March to early April, but the park does have some late blooms that happen toward the end of April as well. The park’s neatly landscaped lawns are the perfect place to escape the busy city streets and have a picnic. Once inside the park, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the middle of Tokyo. The cherry blossoms draw large crowds but the park doesn’t feel packed like many other viewing locations. Its large size allows people to spread out and it’s actually very peaceful.
In addition to cherry trees, Shinjuku Gyoen has a traditional Japanese garden, a French garden, an English landscape garden, and a greenhouse full of more tropical plants. I recommend visiting in the morning and getting in line at the main gate about fifteen minutes before it opens. There is a security check and the entry line gets backed up during midday. Admission is 500 yen.
Ueno Park is located next to the Ueno Station in central Tokyo. It’s Tokyo’s busiest city park and attracts over 10 million visitors a year. It’s known for its surrounding shrines, its many museums, and of course, its cherry trees. The park has over 1,000 trees. Sidewalks wind through the park and cherry trees line the main pathway.
Ueno Park is Tokyo’s most crowded location for cherry blossom viewing. Don’t expect an experience like that of Shinjuku Gyoen. The cherry trees are beautiful, but between the many tourists and vendors, a relaxing walk through the park isn’t likely. Admission to the park is free.
Meguro River is another extremely popular Sakura destination. The river runs for almost eight miles through central Tokyo, eventually flowing into Tokyo Bay. The river has beautifully landscaped banks lined with over 800 cherry trees. Meguro River is one of the best places to view the blossoms at night.
Lanterns light up the trees and it’s a great place for an evening walk. The main stretch of trees is located near the Meguro Station and runs through the Nakameguro district. The Nakameguro district is located near Shibuya and is full of stylish boutiques, hip shops, and great restaurants. I suggest exploring the area either before or after viewing the blossoms. Admission is free.
Sumida Park is a riverside park located five minutes from the Asakusa Station. The park runs along both sides of the river between the Azumabashi and Sakurabash bridges. The park has over 600 cherry trees and offers a great view of the Tokyo Skytree. The trees are lit up at night and you can opt for a boat ride down the river.
Sumida is a great place for Sakura viewing. I went mid-day and there were very few people around. It was quiet, peaceful and the trees were lovely. It was also one of the few locations where I was able to get some great photos without anyone in the background. It can be quite cold during the spring, especially by the river, so make sure you dress warmly. Admission is free.