The period of late March to mid-May is considered the most magical season in all of Japan: a time for new beginnings, blooming possibilities, and the vibrant display of dynamic life. The symbol of Japanese springtime is also the country’s most iconic symbol, the Sakura or cherry blossom.
Signifying the transient nature of life, the Sakura is a sacred totem for the Japanese Buddhist, heralding the start of the year’s most vibrant season. During this season, rows upon rows of cherry blossom trees explode in a breathtaking display of blush pink, an inviting sight that extends from Japan’s progressive megacities towards its idyllic countryside.
Due to the warm Izu climate, the Kawazu Sakura blooms in early February while the rest of Japan is still in winter. It reaches the full display in approximately one month.
That is why the town holds the Kawazu Sakura Festival from Feb. 10 to March 10. This is a splendid opportunity to herald the first blooms of spring in the company of family and friends.
Located in a quiet residential district in Tokyo, the mesmerizing Rikugien Garden is famous for its weeping cherry blossoms. An artificial mountain pass provides a sweeping view of the entire garden perfect for photographs. In March, the whole garden is lighted in the evening, offering the pastel splendor of the sakura even at night.
Also in Tokyo, the Meguro-gawa River traverses the well-known residential district dotted with chic restaurants and shops. About 800 trees full of pale pink sakura line its 3.8-kilometer-long banks making it one of the Japanese capital’s most popular sakura spots. It highlights the Nakameguro Sakura Festival held in early April, where paper lanterns lend a dramatic glow to a beautiful setting of lush cherry blossoms.
With a view of majestic Mt. Fuji, the Arakurayama Sengen Park located in Yamanashi Prefecture, has a five-story pagoda landscaped with fully-grown cherry blossom trees. Visitors in mid-April walk 400 steps up to the viewing area to enjoy the epic scenery.
Large red torii (front gates) welcome pilgrims to the Heian-jingu Shrine garden but the most commanding sight in this sacred site is the lush cherry blossoms. Ancient buildings like the red-painted Byakko-ro (White Tiger) or the Minami Shin-en (south garden) lend a surreal backdrop to the pink showers of weeping cherry blossoms that are in full bloom from late March.
From late March to late April, head to Kyoto’s Tenryu-ji Temple for an otherworldly feel or the elevated viewpoint of Bokyo-no-oka, a small hill in the precincts that isn’t found in the guidebooks.
Maruyama-koen Park is the oldest park in Kyoto City, situated on a natural hill. It is also one of the city’s best leisure and scenic spots for cherry trees. The park’s marvelous weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura), christened “Gion-no-yozakura,” or night cherry blossoms of Gion, reach their full bloom in April.
Kumamoto City is home to Suizenji Jojuen Park that offers the most alluring displays of springtime blooms from late March to early April. The centerpiece of the Suizenji Jojuen Park is a crystal-clear pond. Enhancing this sanctuary are 150 cherry trees planted along the walk, offering an ideal respite to enjoy the delicate display.
Touted as one of Japan’s 100 best cherry blossom spots, Nishi Park in Fukuoka boasts of over 1,300 cherry trees. It can be crowded from late March to early April but visitors can still enjoy the view from the park’s observation deck.
Every year from late March to Early April, Tadamoto Park in Kagoshima holds a Cherry Blossom Festival. For two weeks, some 10,000 people visit the park to admire the sakura in full bloom.
In late April, Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido is the perfect place to get the last glimpse of Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms. The rest of Japan may have seen their sakura trees shed their last blooms but for Hokkaido, the magic and romance is just about to start.
Hakodate’s Goryokaku Park has a star-shaped fortress that shines pink in early May. Thickets of cherry blossoms give the moat which forms the perimeter of the castle a welcoming nature.
Also in early May, Sapporo’s Hokkaido Jingu Shrine witnesses the blissful bloom of 1,200 cherry trees. The shrine also offers cherry blossom tea that guests can enjoy or bring home. If there was a last, epic spot to catch Japan’s cherry blossoms, this would be it.
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