What is cherry blossom festival?
Whilst this season is most well known for the sakura trees (the cherry blossom trees), the festivities on the ground are well worth investigating too. ‘Hanami’ is the festival that occurs in spring every year, and it literally translates to ‘cherry blossom viewing’.
Families, friends and groups gather around the trees until sunset for yozakura (evening blossom viewing). Groups usually bring food, drink and picnic blankets along with them to set up camp for the evening.
When is cherry blossom festival?
This depends on the region you will be visiting in Japan. Late March and early April is usually the prime time to see the blossoms, but they bloom far earlier in the south, and later in the north. In Okinawa, the first blossoms usually peep out in January, whereas in Hokkaido they continue to develop until May.
The Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) have built a blossom forecast based on the first and last blossoms over the past 10 years – well worth consulting before your trip. If you’re having no luck where you are, a Japanese Rail Pass is a great way to scoot around the country, chasing the blossoms, alternatively rent a car and try your hand at driving through the Japanese countryside. They do drive on the same side of road as us and with a nifty GPS navigator you’ll be all set.
Where is the best place to see the blossoms?
Tokyo: Ueno Park, Sumida Park & Chidorigafuchi Park
When: Mid March
Tokyo is one of the best places to head to for cherry blossom season, as there are so many parks to choose from. Make sure you arrive early in the day to secure a good spot.
Fuji: Fuji Fives Lakes, Chureito Pagoda
When: Late March
This spectacular destination constantly graces the pages of luxury glossy magazines–so you can imagine how busy it can get. Avoid the crowds by going at first light, it’ll make for the most stunning cherry blossoms shots.
Kyoto: Philosopher’s Path, Heian Shine
When: Late March, early April
The Philosopher’s Path is one of the most photographed hanami spots – the river curves around, and the blossoms shroud the entire area in a pink hue.
Osaka: Osaka Castle, Osaka Mint Bureau
When: Late March, early April
The Okawa River is lined with more than 5000 cherry blossom trees, so it’s the perfect place to take a stroll at this time of the year. There are also multiple sakura cruises where you can enjoy drinks and dinner under the blossoms.
What’s the best etiquette for cherry blossom festival?
There are a few ‘need-to-know’ tips for enjoying your first festival.
Bring a hanami kit
This includes a waterproof sheet to sit on in case the grass is wet, several warm layers as it’s not usually warm during hanami season, and a rubbish bag. Japanese residents are meticulously clean and tidy – and this is extended to hanami parties too.
Bag a picnic spot early afternoon to get a good spot before the locals arrive (usually near a bathroom, on dry grass, and underneath a branch of blossoms).
Get permission to party
It’s prohibited to sit on the grass in some areas, ask a local guide if you’re unsure of where to picnic.
Bring a Bento BoxNot necessary, but it’s a fun and delicious platter to bring if there’s a group of you. You can usually find these in supermarkets, and the bottom floor of department stores.