For many, few things say “spring has arrived” more than the sight of cherry trees in full bloom, gently raining their petals down on delighted onlookers. And nothing is as quintessentially Japanese as the “hanami”, or cherry blossom viewing, where you enjoy a picnic underneath the trees.
Traveling to Japan to catch the magic of cherry blossom season is undoubtedly on everyone’s travel bucket list. If you’re planning on making the trip anytime soon, read these hanami expert-approved tips on how to make the most of it!
Top cherry blossom hotspots
Just a 10-minute walk away from Shinjuku Station, Shinjuku Gyoen has over one thousand sakura trees and plenty of spacious lawn area for everyone. With a mix of early and late-blooming trees, you’re sure to catch some trees in bloom no matter when in the season you visit. There’s a small admission fee of 200 yen, but it’s well worth it for one of the best hanami spots in Tokyo. Do note that opening hours are from 9am to 4.30pm and no alcohol is allowed.
Located right next to Ueno Station, Ueno Park is usually packed with tourists and locals during sakura season. Take a leisurely stroll towards the National Museum or around Shinobazu Pond for the best views.
Looking to escape the crowds in central Tokyo? Take a short train ride to nearby Yokohama to take in the blossoms at Mitsuike Park, listed as one of the top 100 cherry blossom spots in Japan by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association. You can easily grab a direct bus from Tsurumi Station or Shin-Yokohama Station.
Fuji Five Lakes Region
The northern shores of Lake Kawaguchi offers a postcard-perfect view of the lake and its blossoming cherry trees, along with the majestic Mount Fuji in the background. You’ll want to set up your hanami spot at the lakeside promenade to the east of Kawaguchiko Music Forest.
For another great view that combines Lake Kawaguchi, Mount Fuji and a profusion of sakura trees, head to Ubuyagasaki Peninsula, located next to the Kawaguchiko Ohashi Bridge.
Maruyama Park, situated next to Yasaka Shrine, is the hanami spot for Kyoto’s cherry blossom enthusiasts. The star of the show is the giant, elegant weeping cherry tree with its low-hanging branches, which are awash in pretty lights at night. During sakura season, several restaurants and food stalls set up shop, where visitors can dine in the picturesque setting.
When you’re in Kyoto, of course you’ve got to visit the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in the outskirts. While you’re in the area, you should also take a walk alongside Katsura River, where the sakura trees lining the river offer a wondrous sight, complemented by the mountains in the distance.
Can’t get enough of weeping cherry trees? Heian Shrine’s garden is home to a large swath of them, where you can view cascades of cherry blossom-laden branches. Entry to the shrine’s gardens cost 600 yen, and it’s open from 8.30am to 5.30pm.
Kema Sakuranomiya Park
With thousands of cherry trees lining the riverbank of Okawa River, it’s easy to find a great spot for your hanami. You can even take a walk along the riverside promenade or hop on a boat that cruises down the river.
Osaka Castle Park
For an impressive view of Osaka Castle, head to Osaka Castle Park for your hanami. It’s one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spots in Osaka. For one week during the peak of the season, the castle and trees are illuminated at night. However, while the rest of the park is free entry, to catch the night hanami, which takes place from 6pm to 9pm in Nishinomaru Garden on the castle grounds, you’ll have to pay an admission fee of 350 yen.
Expo 70 Commemorative Park
Located near Banpaku Kinen Koen Station, the former site of the 1970 World Exhibition in Osaka has since been transformed into a huge public park with thousands upon thousands of cherry trees scattered along its paths and parkland area. Typically open from 9.30am to 5pm, opening hours are usually extended during sakura season. It costs 250 yen to enter.
What to bring
- Picnic tarp (one that’s large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone – and all the food!)
- Delicious picnic spread (more on this in the next section!)
- Disposable plates, cups, utensils and napkins (for all your nomming needs)
- Blanket or jacket and scarf (to help you keep warm, as it can still get pretty cold closer towards the end of the day)
- Fully-charged camera or handphone (for all your Instagramming/photo shoot needs)
Must-try hanami food and drinks
This is a well-loved treat during cherry blossom season. Sweet, chewy dango balls – colored pink, white and green – are skewered on a stick.
Hanami bentos are spring-inspired lunch boxes made specially for a hanami. You can easily grab a cheap (but yummy!) one at any convenience shop.
Onigiri (rice balls usually shaped into triangles) is a popular hanami food, as they’re no-fuss, no-muss. The rice is either mixed with seasoning or stuffed with filling, such as tuna or chicken.
Street food vendors often temporarily open in parks to serve the hungry hanami crowd. Pictured above is takoyaki (octopus balls), a definite favorite.
Yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers) is another popular snack.
Sakura-inspired drinks and delicacies
During cherry blossom season, expect to find all kinds of food and drink incorporating sakura being sold everywhere. Above is the sakura mochi, wrapped in cherry leaves.
1. Don’t disturb the cherry trees
The cherry blossoms and cherry trees are there to be admired – not touched! Don’t climb on the trees or shake them to get petals to fall or break off branches to use as a prop or souvenir.
2. Clean up after yourself
Leave your hanami spot as clean and spotless as you found it – pick up all your trash and dispose of them appropriately.
3. Be considerate
Everyone’s here to appreciate the cherry blossoms and enjoy themselves – but don’t be so busy having fun that you forget to consider other hanami-goers.
1. ‘Chop’ your spot as early as possible
As soon as the parks or gardens are open in the morning, people will come to reserve the perfect hanami spot. So come early and bring your picnic mat to grab a good spot!
2. Double-check what’s allowed and what’s not allowed
Not every place is suitable for a hanami, as picnics are not allowed in some places. There are also spots that allow visitors to barbeque, while other places don’t. And although it’s traditional for the Japanese to bring alcoholic drinks along to enjoy during their hanami, some places have actually banned alcohol consumption. So do make sure that it’s a legit hanami spot and be aware of the rules before you set out your picnic tarp.
Now that you’re all prepared to have the hanami of your life, it’s time to book your trip! For the best flight and hotel deals you won’t be-leaf, check out Traveloka!