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Cherry Blossoms To Arrive Early In Japan
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Cherry Blossoms To Arrive Early In Japan

Japan’s famous and beautiful cherry blossoms are due to arrive early in 2024 according to the latest forecast.

A Beginners Guide to Sakura
What Is Cherry Blossom Season?
The Sakura Forecast 2024
Popular Sakura Festivals
Where To Go To See The Cherry Blossom
Bonus Recommendations


Ethereal, beautiful, and delicate, Japan’s famous cherry blossom trees (known as Sakura in Japan) are expected to bloom earlier this year thanks to warmer than average temperatures for March. In this special guide, we’ll give you the latest on this year’s Cherry Blossom forecast from the Japan Meteorological Corporation alongside a comprehensive introduction and guide to this special celebration, why it’s so important in Japan, and how you can enjoy it while you’re visiting this amazing country. We’ll also provide recommendations for cherry blossom viewing locations across Japan, which you can access with the JR Pass for unlimited travel on the country’s domestic railways, the history of cherry blossom viewing and more.  

A Beginners Guide to Sakura

Of all the natural beauty and wonder that Japan has to offer international visitors, cherry blossom season is one of the most famous, economically important, and culturally significant attractions. The Japanese cherry tree (prunus serrulata) produces round pink-white petals known as Sakura each spring when they flower. Viewing the sakura dates back many centuries and is thought to have begun during the Nara Period (710-794). In ancient Japan, the arrival of the sakura meant the beginning of spring and with it, the rice-planting season. Therefore it was essential for planning the year’s harvest. Beyond its practical importance however, sakura was, and remains, spiritually significant. The trees were believed to contain spirits and offerings were traditionally made with rice wine. There are varying stories about how the tradition developed from here. Some historians say that hanami began in the Imperial Court of Emperor Saga before filtering down through the Samurai classes to regular people, while others say it wasn’t until Tokugawa Yoshimune planted sakura in cities across Japan that it caught on with the general populace. An interesting fact is that all of these trees were planted using the same technique, Tsukigi, and share the same DNA, which is one of the reasons why they all bloom around the same time, year after year. Over time, these country-wide celebrations became the hanami parties, picnics and gatherings we know today. The festivals dedicated to the trees even inspired a popular folk song called ‘Sakura, Sakura’. Although the majority of Japanese citizens do not identify as belonging to an organised religion, historically, the two most prominent religions in the country have been Shinto and Buddhism, and these have strongly influenced Japanese culture. Sakura hold significance in both religions. In the case of Shinto, Japan’s ethnic religion, sakura are thought to house kami (sacred spirits or forces). Meanwhile, the ephemeral nature of the cherry blossoms mirrors the great importance of transience in Buddhist doctrine. Of course, even to the non-religious, the Sakura is of huge importance culturally and socially, a special celebration, and a unique opportunity for family, friends, and visitors to Japan, to come together.

What Is Cherry Blossom Season?

Every spring, millions of visitors travel to Japan to view the cherry blossom. It’s one of Japan’s biggest seasonal events and a huge tourist attraction, but what is it exactly and where does hanami come in? Hanami, or flower-viewing, is directly associated with the sakura and involves much more than gazing at the beauty of these iconic trees. It regularly involves picnics, parties and gatherings in parks, gardens, temples and at well-known sakura viewing spots. Cherry blossom season is a time to celebrate and socialise with friends, family, colleagues and visitors from around the world, gathering together under the bough of the cherry blossom tree. You’re likely to hear more than a few cries of ‘kampai’ (cheers) during the day at hanami parties as people bring out bento food, beer and sake, play music, read poetry and dance to celebrate. Bigger venues will often have food and drink stalls too. You may even find yourself being sold special sakura infused products from sakura chu-hai (alcoholic drinks), sakura chocolate, beer, crisps and coffee. There are also traditional foods served at hanami such as the tri-coloured (pink, white and green) ‘dango’ dumpling snack.  At night, the act of viewing is called ‘yozakura’ and sees the appreciation going on into the night under the glow of traditional lanterns and candles.  

The Sakura Forecast 2024

Due to the immense popularity of the season, the Japan Meteorological Corporation has been providing a cherry blossom forecast for a number of years. Generally speaking, cherry blossom season takes place in March and early April and announces the arrival of Spring in Japan. This is the best time to travel, but the dates can vary significantly by region, with Japan’s southern sub-tropical islands blooming first and the colder northern region considerably later, so it’s definitely best to plan ahead. This year, the forecast tells us that the cherry blossom season will arrive earlier than usual. Here’s the current prediction for some of Japan’s major cities: 

  • Tokyo: To start flowering on March 22, reaching full bloom on March 29
  • Kyoto: To start flowering on March 22, reaching full bloom on March 31
  • Osaka: To start flowering on March 24, reaching full bloom on April 1 

The earlier than usual flowering is apparently the result of a warmer autumn and a warmer spring in combination. 

Cherry blossom season is just as popular within Japan as it is to international visitors, so you’ll find thousands of sakura festivals taking place across the country each spring. Below, we’ve put together a small selection of recommendations:

  • Mitsuike Park

Mitsuike Park is located in Yokohama, Japan’s second most populous city. This park is a more simple wonder than other popular hanami spots, mostly composed of walking trails and ponds. However, it is remarkable in that the park’s collection of Sakura represent about 80 species of the tree, many of which bloom at different times of the year. This extends the usually very short window for hanami.

  • Shinjuku Gyo-en National Garden

Stretching through two wards (Shinjuku and Shibuya) of the Japanese capital, Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyo-en National Garden is a 144-acre national park in the middle of Japan’s busiest metropolis. Shinjuku Gyo-en is uniquely composed of gardens in traditional French, English, and Japanese styles, each comprising a different area of the park. While prominently displayed, the park’s cherry blossom trees only account for 1,500 of the park’s 20,000 trees. Additionally, the park’s greenhouses house almost 2,000 tropical and subtropical plants. Fitting for the country’s capital, hanami held in Shinjuku Gyo-en are especially remarkable.

  • Hirosaki Park

Home to the historic Hirosaki Castle, Hirosaki Park in the city of Hirosaki (Aomori prefecture) hosts a popular cherry blossom festival. Located in northern Japan, Hirosaki Sakura-Matsuri is one of the later celebrations. Beyond taking place in a cultural and economic centre, the backdrop of historical architecture adds even more charm to the already beautiful event.

  • Meguro River 

Meguro River winds through approximately five miles of Tokyo. Over half of a mile of its bank is adorned with cherry blossom trees, and the paper lanterns arrayed along the waterway make it an ideal place to enjoy yozakura as well. Additionally, the riverside is dotted with museums and restaurants, which allow those enjoying hanami to particularly indulge in the party aspect of the tradition, as well as peaceful viewing.

  • Ueno Park

Ueno Park is located in the Taitō ward of the metropolis. Ueno Park is Japan’s most popular city park. Beyond being home to approximately 800 cherry blossom trees and many species of bird, the park also boasts many museums and shrines. Some Sakura found in the park are known to bloom earlier than other varieties of Tokyo. Read our Guide to Ueno, Tokyo, for a comprehensive overview of the area.

Where To Go To See The Cherry Blossom

While there are beautiful cherry blossom locations across Japan, even if you’re visiting a major city like Tokyo, you will still be able to view and enjoy the sakura. Here are three of the best places to go in Tokyo: 

  • Shinjuku Gyoen: A calm and peaceful hanami destination in the heart of Tokyo. Alcohol is prohibited so it’s a much more chilled and family affair destination than Ueno Park. 

  • Ueno Park: One of Tokyo’s liveliest and most popular cherry blossom party locations featuring more than 1,000 sakura trees. This is the place to be if you enjoy socialising and festivals. You’ll find the park a few steps from Ueno Station.

  • Chidorigafuchi: The moats of the former Edo castle at Kitanomaru Park are lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees, making for one of Tokyo’s most picturesque locations for viewing the sakura. This is close to Kudanshita Station.

Now, let’s look beyond Tokyo to cherry blossom destinations across the rest of Japan. Here is a short selection of recommendations: 

  • Mount Yoshino: Arguably Japan’s most famous cherry blossom viewing location, the beautiful Mt Yoshino is carpeted with 30,000 sakura trees. Unmissable. You can visit the mountain by taking a shuttle bus from Yoshino Station. How to get there: Using the JR Pass, the best way is to use a local train from either Kyoto or Osaka. Once there, transfer to the Kintetsu line to Yoshino station (390 yen / one way).

  • Fuji Five Lakes: With a backdrop of Mt Fuji, these stunning lakes are worth seeking out by anyone visiting Japan and also boast some of the country's best cherry blossom locations. These include: The Northern Shores of Kawaguchiko. Here you’ll find cherry blossom trees along the shore and the incredible Mt Fuji in the distance. An almost unbeatable combination. You can find this stunning location about a 15 minute bus ride from Kawaguchiko Station. Chureito Pagoda is another of our recommendations in this area. This relatively young pagoda (by Japan’s terms) has become a must-visit destination for photographers and cherry blossom enthusiasts for its magical appearance - floating on a sea of pink-white flowers. The easiest way to get there is to use the train from Shinjuku station, Tokyo bound for Kawaguchi-ko (sometimes a transfer at Otsuki station may be required), then get out at Shimo-Yoshida Station, from here it is 10 min on foot to Chureito Pagoda.

  • Takato Castle Ruins Park: One of the country’s top three cherry blossom locations (alongside Mount Yoshino and Hirosaki Castle), the castle grounds are covered with 1,500 sakura trees. You can reach Takato Castle Ruins Park in Nagano using your JR Pass by travelling from Tokyo via either Chino Station or Inasha Station. 

  • Hirosaki Castle Park: If Mount Yoshino is the most famous, this might be the most beautiful and spectacular. Hirosaki Castle Park in Aomori Prefecture, in the far north of Japan’s main island, boasts 2,600 sakura trees, evening illuminations and the backdrop of the three-storey traditional castle.

  • Kyoto’s Philosopher’s Path: This beautifully named canal is lined with cherry blossom trees and is one of Kyoto’s many sakura viewing locations. Also highly recommended is Maruyama Park next to Yasaka Shrine which features a huge (and famous) tree that is illuminated at night. The weeping cherry trees (yaebeni shidare) of Kyoto’s Heian Shrine are also worth a visit. How to get there: Kyoto station can easily be reached by Shinkansen when travelling from other cities like Tokyo or Osaka. From Kyoto station, take bus number 5 and 100 for about 25 minutes before getting out at Ginkakuji-mae stop.

  • Nara Park: For an alternative cherry blossom destination, try the beautiful Nara Park. It also has two of Japan’s Unesco sites, Todai-ji temple and Kasuga Taisha shrine. You’ll find the park just five-minutes’ walk from Kintetsu Nara Station.

Bonus Recommendations

  • Cherry blossom season sees the beginning of spring in Japan and it’s one of the most popular times of year to visit this unique and beautiful country. For our Top 10 Amazing Things To Do In Japan in the Spring, read our exclusive guide Spring in Japan, which is packed full of great ideas from visiting fruit-picking farms to enjoying spring festivals, outdoor activities, and even unique experiences like viewing the firefly squid of Toyama Bay. 
  • Springtime in Japan is a wonderful time to stop and smell the flowers - literally! And it’s not just the cherry blossom that’s worth viewing. You’ll find a plethora of beautiful flowers across Japan at this time of year. Read our Guide to Springtime in Hokkaido’s Biei-Furano area which is famous for fields filled with row after row of stunning multi-coloured flowers.
  • We also have dedicated guides on the very best things to see and do if you’re visiting Japan in March, April, or May (when cherry blossom season takes place and undoubtedly one of the best seasons to visit Japan!).

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