As spring begins to settle on Japan, cherry blossoms (or sakura, to the locals) ignite throughout the country. The bloom travels south to north, covering the country’s parks, streets, and riverbanks in a soft veil of pink beauty.
To the Japanese, the cherry blossom isn’t just a pretty pink flower that blooms every spring. Instead, it’s a metaphorical reminder of life: something that’s astonishingly beautiful, but fleeting.
For the brief time it is in bloom though, there are few things more eye-catching than a winding trail with weighted branches full of cherry blossoms. For those looking to make the most out of the seasonal phenomenon, here’s a guide to the best regions for cherry blossom viewing.
Kyūshū (and Okinawa)
On the southern islands of Kyūshū and Okinawa, cherry blossoms can be spotted as early as January (at least in Okinawa), but the big bloom usually doesn’t hit until late March. The region boasts numerous locations where you can experience this signature sign of spring, most notably in two places. The first is Omura Park, a national monument with roughly 2,000 trees surrounding a beautiful shrine and park near Nagasaki. The second is Maizuru Park. Not only will you find thousands of cherry trees here, but also the ruins of the Fukuoka Castle, including elegant stone walls and a former moat that dates back to the 17th century.
Of Japan’s four main islands, Shikoku is the smallest, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of pink petals to be enjoyed. The Matsuyama Spring Festival is a huge draw every year, and takes place in early April. On the other side of the island is Kōchi, a small city close to the ocean and mountains. The city is home to a stunning central park (where Kōchi Castle can also be found) that is blanketed with shades of pink during the spring.
Located in the Chūgoku region is Senkoji Park, which sits above the city of Onomichi, and overlooks the port and a handful of inlet islands. A number of hillside trails lead to an observation deck, and along the way you’ll pass a number of impressive temples and shrines. While the view from the top is guaranteed to be colorful come early April, the trails themselves allow visitors a closer look at the subtle beauty of these remarkable flowers.
The Kansai region is home to over 22 million, the majority of which live in massive cities like Osaka and Kyoto. There are endless places to witness the country’s national flower flourish in these two metropoles, but there are a few standouts.
Starting in Osaka, you’ll want to wander around the storied Kema Sakuranomiya Park (where close to 5,000 cherry trees grow). The park meanders along the picturesque Osaka River en route to Osaka Castle, which can be seen poking above the branches of rosy-colored trees.
About an hour north of Osaka is Kyoto. If you find yourself here during this time of year, the Pilgrim’s Path (a walk between the Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji Temples) is a relaxing and scenic route to observe the different shades.
In the country’s central region, the cherry trees blossom around the first week of April. One of Chūbu’s main draws is Mt. Fuji, and visiting Iyashi no Sato (a small village on the shores of Lake Saiko) allows travelers to enjoy a stunning view of the mountain while enjoying the surrounding blooms.
You’ll also find the beautiful Gojo River snaking through the region’s towns and cities. Each year, the city of Iwakura hosts a cherry blossom festival along the river’s banks, drawing in crowds to enjoy the traditional scenery and lovely pink blooms.
Tokyo headlines this region of Japan, and could single-handedly fill an entire itinerary for cherry blossom lovers. The country’s largest city is home to blossom-bustling areas such as Ueno Park and the paths along the Meguro River. At least a dozen varieties of the cherry tree can be found in Tokyo alone, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place worth exploring.
Near the city of Maebashi is Akagi Nanmen Senbonzakura, a festival that stretches for roughly a mile under an arch of cherry blossoms. The thousands of trees are known to bloom over a period of a few weeks in early April, which allows for more flexibility when planning your trip. The road is also framed by fields covered in what is referred to as “Miyagi Senbonzakura no Mori,” a pink moss that adds to the colorful effect.
As you approach Tōhoku, you’ll notice the seasonal drudgery of Japan’s northern regions. Due to the area’s long winters, spring is celebrated thoroughly, including the bloom of cherry trees that can be seen near the end of April and into early May. When spring arrives in northern Japan, you can expect a sea of pink to overtake the parks and streets.
Three big cherry blossom locations in the area are Tsutsujigaoka Park (in the Miyagi Prefecture), Kakunodate Samurai Residences (Akita Prefecture), and Hirosaki Park (Aomori Prefecture). In classic Japanese fashion, the flowers in these areas decorate temples, castles, and moats, creating opportunities for timeless photo-ops.
The northernmost point of Japan may be best known for volcanoes and ski resorts, but, if you have the patience (full bloom usually isn’t until the first week of May), the area is also a gold mine for cherry blossoms.
A local favorite is Matsumae Park, located at the southern tip of the island. The blossoms engulf a collection of temples and castles that date back to the Edo Period. And, if you’re looking for a final destination to wrap up your cherry blossom hunt, Seiryu Ji Temple in Nemuro is the perfect place, since the trees don’t usually begin to bloom until the end of May.