Sakura / 桜 is the Japanese word which refers both to the Japanese cherry trees and their flowers. This species called 'prunus serrulata' (in latin) doesn't produce cherries. The Sakura have a very strong presence in the Japanese society and culture, especially when they blossom during spring, which offers absolutely stunning scenery.
The Sakura bloom in different parts of Japan and depending on the weather, it generally happens from late March to mid April in Honshu. But it begins in January with Okinawa which has a more tropical climate, and continues on May in Hokkaido which is colder. Weather reports talk about cherry blossom very frequently during this period (known as 'Sakura Zensen' / 桜前线) and some websites provide a real time percentage of flowering Sakura throughout Japan, for maximum enjoyment. The best of them is probably Weathernews.jp.
There are different types of Sakura in Japan, that's why the flowers color can vary from white to a very strong pink. As flowering is usually around the Golden Week (a holiday week for many Japanese) in Tokyo, families and friends gather to photograph them and go to parks to eat and drink sake under the Sakura. This tradition is called 'Sakura ohanami' / 桜お花見, which literally means 'contemplation of cherry blossoms.'
It's a tradition that I recommend to anyone traveling in Japan, especially since spring is an ideal time to enjoy this country.
Here is some footage we shot in Japan during sakura hanami :
Calendar of flowering cherry trees in Japan Sakura
The official website of JNTO (Japanese National Travel Agency) has a very interesting page which contains a lot of information about Sakura, and especially a region by region timetable of when the cherry trees are in bloom (click of the image to the left of this paragraph). To plan your trip to Japan and enjoy these beautiful landscapes, it's essential to refer to it.
Let me give you a summary of the sights not to be missed, by cities and regions in Japan, to enjoy the beauty of sakura in spring:
- Tokyo: Shinjuku Gyoen (very large), Ueno Park (most populous), Chidorigafuchi (pedal boats for rent)
- Kyoto: Nijo-jo, Philosopher's path, Maruyama Park, Arashiyama
- Osaka: Kema Sakuranomiya Park, Osaka Castle, 1970 Exhibition Park
- Nara: the large park between the main temples
- Mount Fuji: Kawaguchiko, Chureito pagoda
- Kamakura: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
- Hiroshima: Peace Park, Itsukushima (Miyajima)