A Visit During Cherry Blossom Time
The best times to be a tourist in Japan are undoubtedly spring and autumn. In late March or early April, there’s the bonus of Japan’s magnificent sakura in full display
Towards the end of March and into April, the sakura trees shake off their winter dormancy and burst into colour. The iconic cherry blossoms of Japan draw the people out of their homes, armed with their cameras and easels aiming to capture the first fleeting signs of the warmer weather ahead. Attention turns to hanami, the celebration of spring that has them picnicking in the groves, hampers laden with the sushi, the sashimi and the sake.
In fact, by the start of April cherry blossom time has been and gone in much of this land that spans 20 degrees of latitude. In Okinawa, hanami can be celebrated in January, when Hokkaido is still in the depths of winter. In Kyushu the blossoms are often out in mid-March, while in Kyoto and Tokyo the revelries must wait another week or so. Up in Sapporo, it’s another month before the sakura really show their colours.
Special segments of the daily weather reports track the blossoms’ progress northwards, watched by the citizenry eagerly anticipating the symbolic start of spring, and the celebration it produces.
The Best Time to Visit Japan
The locals’ enthusiasm for springtime in Japan would suggest that it’s an inconvenient time to visit. But that’s not the case. While the sakura are fleetingly showing off their finery, the crowds are quite normal for this populous country. In most of Japan, the holiday season has not yet begun.
Public vacation time in Japan comes at the end of April or the start of May – Golden Week. The tourist should seriously consider avoiding that short holiday season. Transport, sightseeing venues and accommodation come under considerable pressure during Japan’s Golden Week, and the crowds are not much fun for the foreign tourist.
The best advice for the visitor wanting reasonable weather conditions for enjoying the sights and pleasures of Japan is to be there before Golden Week, or delay the trip until autumn.
Tourists should be aware that at cherry blossom time, the best laid plans can come unstuck. The blossoms are at their best for a very short time – barely a few days.
The best forecasting possible can be made to look ordinary by a sudden gale, or a rainstorm that turns the fragile blooms to soggy litter. But tourists should not despair. The joys of spring still pervade the atmosphere, that short dose of inclement weather will go as quickly as it came, and around the next corner there might just be a riot of colour.
Some Great Places to View the Cherry Blossoms
Assuming the forecasting is reasonably accurate and there’s a little luck on the shoulder, the tourist can experience a special dose of cherry blossom magic in the following places.
- Kyoto. Most public parks in this ancient city and many of the streets are adorned with sakura. Kyoto is a compact city, easy to get around. There are many pleasant walks between its wonderful array of attractions, most enjoyable on a fine spring day.
- Hakone. Situated in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the Hakone region offers some splendid natural scenery, highlighted by Fuji-san itself. At springtime, the sakura are never far away, and can be enjoyed before the crowds gather. Travellers are advised to avoid going on the weekends though. Hakone is a popular day trip destination for Tokyo residents.
- Tokyo. As with Kyoto, there are numerous public spaces in the capital where the cherry blossoms can be enjoyed. One of the most popular is Ueno Park. Back downtown outside the Imperial Palace, it’s interesting to watch the cherry blossom watchers lined up along Hongo Dori.
- Kumamoto. This city in Kyushu is famous for its castle, a wonderful attraction in itself. The grounds sport a fine collection of sakura.
- Matsuyama. Another castle town, this one on the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, Shikoku. Visitors in springtime can enjoy the Matsuyama oshiro matsuri (castle festival), held each year at the height of the cherry blossom season (as it is in other castle towns as well).
- Matsumae. If a little later in the season and willing to brave Golden Week, visitors could consider Matsumae in Hokkaido. Matsumae Koen boasts some 1000 sakura of 250 varieties. A feast of colour in late in April or early May.
There’s plenty of advice and information on offer to satisfy enquiry on the Land of the Rising Sun as the place for that next holiday. The history, the culture, the food, the technology – all on show at their brilliant best in springtime, cherry blossom time.