Planning a visit to Japan to see the famous cherry blossoms next year? Read our guide to the 2023 Sakura Forecast for everything you need to know about this wonder of nature.
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Beautiful. Transcendental. Fleeting. The delicate pink petals of Japan’s famous cherry blossom season are one of the wonders of the natural world. Their beauty attracts millions of visitors from around the world every year. It is one of Japan’s biggest attractions and makes springtime one of the most popular times of year to visit this extraordinary and unforgettable country. Cherry blossoms - or sakura as it is known in Japan - bloom each spring in Japan but the exact dates can vary from year to year. This is where the Sakura Forecast comes in. Just as most countries provide daily reports on the weather, in Japan news stations monitor and report on the “Cherry Blossom Front” (sakura zensen) based on detailed information from the Japanese Meteorological Agency, Japan Weather Association and other companies, in what is called ‘The Sakura Forecast’.
Japan’s famous cherry blossom season is set to be more popular than ever now that the country has reopened to international tourists, but when is the best time to travel to ensure you witness this beautiful spectacle in full bloom? In our ultimate guide to the 2023 Sakura Forecast, we’ll tell you where and when to travel, how to get around Japan using your JR Pass, and provide you with everything you need to know about the sakura, hanami, and the many wonders of cherry blossom season.
What Is Sakura?
Simply put, Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom. To be more specific, it is the prunus serrulata or Japanese cherry, which is native to Japan as well as Korea and China. These beautiful trees produce round pink-white petals that flutter gracefully to the ground after they bloom. The cherry blossom season is hugely important to Japanese culture and attracts visitors from all over the world. Sakura, and their ephemeral blooms, in particular, are of great significance in Japanese culture. The festivals dedicated to the trees even inspired a popular folk song called “Sakura, Sakura” or just “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.
Why is it important?
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. 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, 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.
When Is Cherry Blossom Season?
Japan’s famous cherry blossoms bloom from late March to April each year and they are generally in ‘peak bloom’ for just two weeks. However, a lesser known fact, at least amongst international visitors, is that the sakura blooms at different times across Japan. This means that you’ll have a chance of seeing cherry blossoms as early as January and February and as late as May depending on when and where you travel in Japan. You could even follow the blossom by travelling right across Japan from west to north east using your Japan Rail Pass for almost unlimited journeys on the country’s super-fast, efficient, and cost effective domestic rail network. It all depends on the nature of your trip and how long you’re visiting for. Typically, cherry blossom season is known to run from late March to April each year in Japan and while the exact dates can vary by a couple of days here and there, it is relatively consistent. If you’re looking to base a holiday to Japan around the cherry blossom season, then it’s definitely best to check the forecast for the most accurate dates.
The Sakura Forecast for 2023
In 2023, the sakura will first appear around 22 March in the Tokyo, Kōchi, and Yamaguchi prefectures. This forecast is direct from the Japan Meteorological Corporation and is based on data gathered from somei-yoshino cherry trees at more than 1,000 locations around the country. The corporation predicts that after 22 March the sakura will bloom across Japan in a north-eastern direction starting western Japan and ending in Hokkaido - Japan’s northernmost and typically coldest region - in May. They forecast Sapporo - Hokkaido’s main city - will see the sakura in bloom on 2 May.
A Brief History of Hanami
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.
Originally, hanami was a festivity exclusive to the Japanese Imperial Court. As we mentioned earlier, the tradition may have begun as early as the Nara period (710–794 CE). Over time however, the tradition diffused into the general culture of Japan and beyond. Although modern hanami most commonly centres around sakura, the original practitioners celebrated under ume (plum trees). Today, Japan’s cherry blossoms have grabbed most of the spotlight, but plum trees remain beautiful in their own right. Their viewing tends to be more reserved than the lively, fun, and highly social celebrations that make up Japan’s modern day cherry blossom festivals.
Cherry Blossom Festivals
Cherry blossom festivals take place across Japan each year. While there are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from, here’s our recommendation for some of the very best:
- 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.
- 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.
- Mitsuike Park
Mitsuike Park is located in Yokohama, Japan’s second most populous city. This park is a offers a more straightforward experience 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Best Places To View The Sakura across Japan In 2023 and How To Get There
Thanks to the Sakura Forecast, you know ‘when’ to travel, but ‘where’ are the best locations to see the cherry blossom? We can tell you!
There are more than 1,000 places to view the sakura in Japan. However, some are more famous and spectacular than others. We have put together a list of must-see cherry blossom viewing destinations, including a few lesser known beauty spots so you can avoid the crowds.
- 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. This newly built pagoda has become a must-visit destination for photographers and cherry blossom enthusiasts for its magical appearance - floating on a sea of pink-white flowers.
How to get there: The easiest way 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.
- 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.
- 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. A five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station
- 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 bus number 5 and 100 take about 25 minutes, get out at Ginkakuji-mae stop.
- 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.
If you’re planning a trip across the entirety of Japan using the JRailPass, it might make sense to fly into Tokyo then travel south to Kagoshima via the Shinkansen (high-speed bullet train) before working your way from south to north across the whole country via all of the most famous sakura viewing locations - this would be an epic and spectacular journey but very achievable using your JR Pass.
While very popular (and therefore busy), spring is an amazing time to visit Japan with a huge amount to see and do alongside the famous cherry blossom. Here are a few extra ideas to consider:
If the busy crowds attracted by the cherry blossom season prove a little too crowded for your tastes, there is an alternative - plum blossom season. Just as beautiful but not as famous, read our guide to Visiting Japan to View The Plum Blossom for everything you need to know.
Springtime in Japan is a wonderful time to stop and smell the flowers - literally! And it’s not just the cherry blossom (or plum 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.
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.
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!).
Finally, if you find yourself in need of directions, language tips, or etiquette advice from your mobile device while you’re following the cherry blossom, you’ll want to invest in PocketWifi to make sure you stay connected and avoid unexpected charges.