Yasukuni Shrine is usually mentionned in connection with the nationalist controversies related to the war criminals commemorated there, a subject already treated at some length in a separate article.
This article is strictly concerned with the touristic aspect of this visit as there is another reason, very different from the political controversy, why Yasukuni is a place of interest, in particular during the sakura, or Japanese cherry tree, season in spring.
It is indeed at the Yasukuni Shinto shrine that the sample cherry tree on which the Japan Meteorological Agency relies to officially announce and update the cherry blossom front is to be found.
Thus the large pedestrian pathway leading up to Yasukuni assumes the appearance of a festival as soon as the first blossoms start bourgeoning on the tree limbs. As a matter of fact, this period is referred to as sakura matsuri when food and drink stalls flourish as profusely as the trees themselves. The word yozakura is used to refer to one special evening during that period when the trees are lit up with lanterns.
Over and above their role as sample trees, the Yasukuni cherry trees offer a fresh breath of sakura in the very centre of Tokyo if you travel there in early Spring. You also only have to cross the boulevard into Chiyoda Park and Chidorigafuchi to see an equal abundance of cherry trees.
During the same period, the Yasukuni shrine also holds a rather original sumo tournament that attracts numerous visitors: about two thousand wrestlers take part in the event, including some Yokozuna.
So it is totally possible to skip the controversial historical aspect and merely enjoy the site through a simple visual approach.
How to get to Yasukuni
By train -- JR Chuo / Sobu / Keihin-Tohoku lines, Iidabashi station and 3 minute walk
By subway -- Tokyo Metro: Shinjuku, Tozai or Hanzomon lines, Kudanshita station (S05, T07 or Z06) and 2 minute walk
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 281)
Shrine : free
Museum : ¥800 (~US$ 7.40)
Temple open every day:
- from 6am to 6pm (March-April)
- from 6am to 7pm (May-August)
- from 6am to 5pm (November to February)
Museum open from 9am to 4:30pm (last entry at 4pm)
How long / when to visit
Full sakura bloom: late March, early April
Mitama Matsuri from July 13 to 16
Shôkonsha (original name)