While hanami, or ‘flower gazing’, typically refers to Japan’s famous cherry blossoms, the country has much more to offer flower lovers all year round.
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There’s more to flower viewing in Japan than just the cherry blossom. From pink moss to wisteria, roses to hydrangea, sunflowers to lavender, Japan is famous for its beautiful flowers, and they occupy an important part in Japanese culture. Flower viewing is a major activity, and it’s about much more than just serenely gazing at pretty petals. In Japan, flowers go hand in hand with spending time with family and friends outdoors; flowers mean festivals, food, and music, and joyous celebrating the natural world. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about flower viewing in Japan, where to go to see different varieties, the locations of the best flower festivals, and how to get there with your Japan Rail Pass. Let the flower gazing begin!
What is Flower Viewing?
Flower viewing or gazing has become an art form in itself in Japan. The word ‘hanami’ describes flower gazing, and most commonly refers to Japan’s world-famous cherry blossom season, which takes place every spring and attracts millions of visitors to the country each year. Cherry blossom, or Sakura to give the flower it’s true Japanese name, has become synonymous with hanami, although the practice originally started with plum blossom before their popularity was overtaken by their pink petalled cousins. You can read more about both in our guides to the Cherry Blossom Season and Visiting Japan to see the Plum Blossom.
However, flower viewing more generally can apply to any flower, and Japan is known for having an abundance right across the country. It has so many beautiful flowers in fact, that flower festivals are extremely popular and take place in almost every prefecture of Japan. One of the reasons for the popularity of flower viewing is the significance of flowers to Japanese culture and the fact that flower viewing is seen as a social occasion that brings people together. For this reason, whole festivals have sprung up (no pun intended) around flowers, and cherry blossom season usually sees family and friends having picnics and enjoying the outdoors together with food stalls and music.
Famous Flowers in Japan and Where To Find Them
- Wisteria and more at Ashikaga Flower Park
First opened in 1968, Ashikaga Flower Park has grown to become an immensely popular tourist destination in Japan for those hoping to see gorgeous Japanese flowers. The park has expanded and relocated over the years and now covers 23 acres on the outskirts of the city of Ashikaga in Tochigi Prefecture. While most people associate Ashikaga with its white, pink, purple and blue wisteria trees, you can also see azaleas, tulips and even lavender there. For example:
- April: Spring flowers like Tulips
- May around Golden Week: Blooming Wisteria
- June: Blue and White Hydrangeas
- October: Fields of Lavender
To reach Ashikaga Flower Park from Tokyo, take a Shinkansen to Oyama station, transfer to the JR Ryomo Line and travel to Ashikaga Flower Park Station just outside the park. All of this journey is covered with your JR Pass. Read our guide to Ashikaga Flower Park to find out more.
- Lavender at Furano in Hokkaido
The vivid purple truly is a spectacular sight to behold and definitely worth making a trip to Furano in the summer months. Lavender has been cultivated in Furano for more than half a century and the fields begin to bloom from around June each year, reaching their peak in July and continuing until the end of August. Furano’s famous lavender is used in all sorts of foods, perfumes, soaps, and other products – even ice cream! Furano is famous for many other types of flowers too and boasts several striking multi-coloured fields with poppies, blossoms, lupins, lilies, salvias, sunflowers, cosmos and more.
Hokkaido can be reached directly by rail from Tokyo, with a one-way trip taking roughly four hours using the Hokkaido Shinkansen. The trip is fully covered by the JRailPass. Once in Hokkaido, there are a number of ways to reach Furano. If travelling from Tokyo, you can transfer at Sapporo, Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, or Takikawa. Read our guide to Furano - Japan’s Lavender Town for the full story.
- Seasonal flowers at Lake Yamanaka Flower Park
Yamanakako Hanano Miyako Park is located at the base of Mt. Fuji and close to Lake Yamanaka, one of the Fuji Five Lakes. At different times of the year, there are over one million seasonal flowers that make for the most colourful display around Fuji that you’ll ever see. Here’s a quick guide to the flowers to look out for:
- April to May: Tulips
- June to July: Poppy and Baby’s Breath
- August: Sunflower
- October: Cosmos
You can find out more in our guide to Visiting Lake Yamanaka Flower Park.
- Cherry Blossom at locations across Japan
As we have said, Japan has much more to offer flower fans than just the cherry blossom. However, that doesn’t make the cherry blossom any less beautiful or spectacular. It is world famous for a reason, after all. The Sakura has a special significance in Japan and the cherry blossom season each spring is a major cultural event. There are stunning locations right across Japan to appreciate the cherry blossom, as well as plentiful festivals and celebrations to take part in. As such, it’s tricky to name the single best place to see the cherry blossom, but we have picked out a couple of recommendations below.
- The Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto
Known locally as Tetsugaku no michi, the Philosopher's path follows small channels in Kyoto lines with cherry blossom trees. Due to its easy location, the Philosopher's path can be combined with many of the other highlights located in the eastern side of Kyoto. The city can easily be reached by Shinkansen when travelling from other cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Read our guide to Walking the Philosopher’s Path for more.
- Ueno Park, Tokyo
Tokyo’s Ueno Park is a famous spot for hanami parties to celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom with family and friends. Ueno park is right outside Ueno station, which is a big JR Hub and easy to reach from most places around Tokyo.
- Mount Yoshino, Nara
The mountain range of Yoshino is one of the most spectacular Sakura sights in Japan. With over 30,000 cherry blossom trees that cover the mountainside, it simply does not get any more epic than this. Using the JR Pass, the best way is to use a local train from either Kyoto or Osaka. Here transfer to the Kintetsu line to Yoshino station.
For more ideas read our guide to the Eight Best Spots To View The Cherry Blossom in Japan and How To Get There.
- Plum Blossom at Ibaraki
They may be less famous than the cherry blossom, but that doesn’t mean they’re less beautiful. Sometimes described as the ‘winter cousin’ of the cherry blossom, plums come in many varieties and have been cultivated for centuries, with colours ranging from white and pale pink, through to dark pink and purple. Plum blossom was the original focus of ‘hanami’ or ‘flower gazing’ before the popularity of cherry blossom exploded across the nation and today they make a wonderful alternative to their more famous cousin, particularly for those who would prefer to avoid the crowds that sometimes come with cherry blossom festivals. Here are a couple of suggestions for viewing the plum blossom.
- Mito City, Ibaraki
Kairaku-en in Mito City is considered one of the three most beautiful and famous landscape gardens in Japan. Located on a hill, you will find 3,000 plum trees of 100 different varieties in the most picturesque surroundings. Use your Japan Rail Pass to take the JR Joban Line to Mito Station. It is a 15-minute bus ride from there.
Banpaku Park features more than 150 different varieties of plum blossom tree Osaka Castle’s grounds. The castle and plum blossom trees make for one of the most beautiful images in all of Japan. You can use the Shinkansen to get from Tokyo to Osaka with no changes in about three hours using your Japan Rail Pass and the Hikari and Kodama trains.
Top 5 Japanese Flower Festivals
Flowers are big in Japan, and you will find festivals throughout the country. Here are five of the most popular to look out for:
- Fuji Shibazakura Festival
This flower festival is a particular attraction because of its location around the iconic Mount Fuji. Between April and May, more than 800,000 Shibazakura trees blossom with Mt. Fuji as an unforgettable backdrop. It’s no wonder this festival is so popular.
- Nemophila Flower Festival at Hitachi Seaside Park
Millions of blue nemophila flowers make for one of the most magical experiences and Hitachi Seaside Park might just be the best place to see them. Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture boasts beautiful flowers all year around, making it one of the best destinations for nature lovers, but it’s during the month of April and May that over 4.5 million blue nemophila bloom. You can reach Hitachi Seaside Park via the JR Joban Line from Shinagawa, Tokyo, or Ueno stations to Katsuta Station, using your JRailPass, followed by a short 15-minute bus ride.
- Hokuryu Sunflower Festival
Hokkaido - Japan’s Northernmost island - is famous for offering visitors something different from their Japanese experience. Hokuryu Sunflower Festival welcomes more than 1.5 million visitors in July and August for one reason - field after field of amazing gold sunflowers.
- Farm Tomita Lavender Festival
Hokkaido is also famous for its purple lavender. One of the best-loved places in Furano to view the region’s lavender and other flowers is Farm Tomita. It has gorgeous fields against the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Tokachi mountain range. It also offers a cafe, farm shop, tractor rides, fruit picking and more. It’s a wonderful day out for the whole family. Popular seasonal fruits in Furano include melons, berries, and pumpkins. Farm Tomita received so many visitors that it opened a second farm, Lavender East, in 2008, which offers visitors a 15-minute ride on the ‘Lavender Bus’ – on a tractor through its purple fields, which are said to be the largest in all of Japan.
- Wisteria Festival at Kawachi Fuji Garden
Last but definitely not least, the Wisteria Festival at Kawachi Fuji Garden has become world famous for its incredibly beautiful Wisteria Tunnel. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful sight for flower fans. Kawachi Fuji Garden can be found in Kitakyushu city in Fukuoka Prefecture.
And of course, alongside these five are the hundreds of cherry blossom and plum blossom festivals that take place across the country each spring.
Hanakotoba - the language of flowers
In Japan, flowers have a long history of hidden meanings. There is even a name for this secret floral language - Hanakotoba. Here is a selection of flowers from Japan and their meanings:
- Plum blossom
Legend has it that plum trees were planted near doors to ward off evil spirits. Their positioning became part of the design of homes and properties for this reason and plum trees were often placed in the north-east corner, which was known as the ‘demons’ gate’, the direction from which evil and danger was believed to gain entry. To this day, the plum blossom is believed to symbolise spring, protection, and good health.
In the Japanese language of flowers, purple wisteria was linked to nobility - so much so that regular people were not allowed to wear it.
- Red spider lily
This distinctive red flower is often used at funerals in Japan. It is traditionally associated with samsara - the cycle of death and rebirth - in Buddhist teachings.
Known as Tsubaki in Japanese, this flower is also linked with death and was popular with Samurai and nobles during the Edo period when it came to signify a noble death.
Red chrysanthemums appear on the Japanese Imperial Family crest, while the white variety are sometimes linked with grief and used at funerals.
Flower lovers will find lots of related activities to see and do in Japan while travelling the country to attend festivals and view the most beautiful flowers. From ancient forests to rice fields, national parks to green tea plantations, here are our best bonus recommendations:
- Different flowers blossom in different seasons. Before you travel, do you research Japan's seasons by reading our guides, When is the Best Time To Visit Japan, and Deciding When to Visit: Japan’s Weather and Seasons.
- If you love flowers, how about the ancient trees and mystical forests of Yakushima Island: the real-life inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke and home to one of the world’s oldest trees.
- Japan’s beautiful Historic Rice Fields and Paddies also make a lovely visit for nature lovers.
- Alongside its famous flowers, Japan is also known for its beautiful autumn foliage. Find out more in Japan in Autumn or Top Five Autumn Foliage Viewing Spots.
- If the great outdoors is your thing, Japan has one of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes in the world and some of the most beautiful spots can be found in the country’s National Parks. They are more than 30 to discover and explore.
- While exploring the Japanese landscape, it’s helpful to stay connected to the internet whether it’s for directions, language tips, or just to post a beautiful photo of the flowers you’ve spotted, and the best way to do this is by purchasing a Pocket Wifi device for unlimited internet wherever you go.