Spring brings a colorful transformation to the landscape in Japan, a time when it’s blanketed with cherry blossoms. The sight is an iconic symbol of the country, with the impressive display seen alongside the river, temples, in parks and throughout city streets. Taking part in the cherry blossom season, or sakura, as it’s referred to, is sure to be one of the highlights of your time in this country, particularly if you visit these strikingly colorful places.
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Visiting Mount Fuji will allow you to check off two travel bucket list experiences in Japan, the mountain itself and the surrounding cherry blossoms. This national icon can be viewed from many different spots, but one of the best is the Fuji Five Lakes region, especially for a few of the mountain and the sakura. Head to the north shores of Lake Kawaguchiko as well as Chureito Pagdo, a five -story pagoda on the mountainside overlooking Fujiyoshida City, with Mount Fuji as its backdrop.
Mount Yushino, Nara
Venturing to Mount Yoshino in Nara during the peak of the sakura season may take a bit of bravery on your part as its blanketed with more than 30,000 cherry trees as the most famous spot for viewing the blossoms in the entire country for centuries. You can miss the biggest crowds by arriving as early as possible, or by staying at a ryokan on the mountain, allowing for especially tranquil, uninterrupted views just after sunrise. There are various parks and viewpoints throughout the four distinct sections that lie around the base of the mountain ridge, and plenty of yatai food stalls for fueling appetites too.
As the majority of visitors to Japan spend some time in Tokyo, if you want to view the blossom’s here, there is no better place than the large park in the heart of the city known as Shinjuku Gyoen, which also happens to be just steps from one of the busiest and largest entertainment and business hubs. Here you’ll find more than a thousand cherry trees, including the early- and late-blooming varieties, so you’ll have more time to experience the sakura season here.
Himeji Castle, Kansai Region
Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s 12 original castles, and considered a must visit anytime of the year, but sakura season takes its striking presence up a notch, with the grounds filled with cherry trees that create a dazzling spectacle when in full bloom. Coupled with the meandering pathways, the gardens, the towers, wooden bridge and the gates, it’s like entering a fantasy land.
The former castle town and well-known historic site in the Akita Prefecture known as the Kakunodate samurai district offers the chance to visit spectacular cherry blooms and samurai architecture at the same time. The well-preserved village is home to especially lovely streets lined with countless cherry trees that frame centuries-old samurai homes. You can also enjoy a picnic under the trees that lie on the banks of the Hinokinai River.
Kyoto is home to more shrines and temples than anywhere else in Japan, which are made even lovelier when framed by pink petals. The city also boasts a beautiful stone walkway known as the Philosopher’s Path, a one-and-a-quarter-mile stone path that stretches from Nanzenji Temple to Ginkakuji Temple, following a canal through the Higashiyama District. It’s not only lined with cafes, restaurants and shops, but with cherry trees that explode into color every April as one of the most popular places for experiencing sakura.
Hanamiyama Park, Fukushima
Situated in the northern Tohoku region of Japan in Fukushima Prefecture, Hanamiyama Park, which literally translates to flower viewing mountain, sits on the slopes that surround a rural farming community. It was established by local farmers who started planting trees and ornamental plants here, ultimately opened up to the public as a park in 1959. Today it’s home to many different types of cherry trees along with other flowering trees, bringing a variety of hues to the area in springtime, while the Azuma Mountains offer an impressive backdrop in the distance. Pick up a map at the visitor center which features a variety of walking routes and view points that overlook the city and the valley.
Hirosaki Castle Park, Aomori
The Aomori Prefecture is well-worth a visit too, not only offering lots of fabulous sakura viewing, but it also hosts the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, typically in late April or early May in Hirosaki Castle Park. The park is considered one of the best places for viewing cherry blossoms in the Tohuku Region, an area famous for its many exciting sakura viewing spots situated in the northern part of Honshu Island. You’ll discover some 2,500 cherry trees here, along with a magnificent castle, bridges, moats, meandering paths and food stalls. The park also boasts a jaw-dropping view of Mount Iwaki from the castle grounds, as well as the opportunity for boat tours, and rowboat rentals where you can paddle around the moats.
Matsumae Park, Hokkaido
If you plan to visit later in the spring, be sure to put Matsumae Park, located in the southernmost point of Hokkaido, on your itinerary. It has an uncharacteristically long blooming season, lasting from late April through late May, with the peak season generally around the first week in May. It’s home to some 10,000 cherry trees with 250 different varieties, and as another castle park, it hosts its own castle too: Matsumae Castle, an Edo period castle that’s the only one of its kind in the in Hokkaido region. Matsumae was the northern limit of the country during this period, and the sole feudal fief on the otherwise wild, untamed frontier. The prosperous town was popular with merchants involved in the shipping trade, and was protected by the castle’s garrison. The park also has a small Sakura Museum with information about the development of the blossoms, as well as photos and preserved specimens of the types of cherry trees here.