Sakura is the Japanese word corresponding to the Japanese cherry trees and their flowers. Among the numerous varieties, the slightly pink white cherry tree somei yoshino is the most widespread. Sakura have a very strong presence in the Japanese society and culture. Their flowering during spring time is celebrated all around the archipelago (this is called hanami or ohanami) and offers absolutely stunning landscapes.
Weather forecasts are all about this event during this period of the year (we talk about 桜前線 sakura zensen) and there are websites giving in live time the percentage of sakura blossoming in all Japan, in order to enjoy as much as possible their beautiful views.
Families and friends gather to photograph and settle down in parks for a nice picnic: eating and drinking (beers or sake) under the trees, on their famous blue floor covers, sometimes booked a long time in advance. We call this tradition 桜お花見 sakura ohanami which literally means "the contemplation of cherry trees’ flowers", during which Japanese people sometimes spend most of this time drinking rather than actually looking at the flowers!
Here is a video of the different types of flowering Japanese cherry trees, recorded during our own travels in Japan:
Types of sakura and cultural presence
There are different types of sakura in Japan (actually up to several hundreds varieties in total), out of which flowers’ colors can vary from immaculate white to strong pink, including a more or less pale yellow. The most frequent and appreciated species is somei yoshino, a white variety with light pink tones whose flowers are ornated with 5 petals. Some, like shidarezakura, only refer to a specific form such as the "crying" cherry tree. Some others can be recognized by their shade : yellow for the ukon, for example. Finally, we can find very dense species such as ichiyô or kikuzakura, which can have up to a hundred petals!
For contemplative Westerners, Japanese cherry trees correspond to the "Prunus Serrulata" species, which does not produce cherry fruits. However, numerous food products are flavored with "sakura flavor" when spring is around the corner. Among the most famous, we can cite:
- mochis, delicious sticky desserts made from rice;
- special KitKats;
- or even a seasonal collection of Asahi beer, Pepsi soda, Starbucks Frappuccino or even the McFlury.
The sakura flower is so famous that it is the symbol of the 100 Yen coin! And at last but not least, Sakura is also a first name.
Whatever it is, this is a tradition that we do recommend to all of those travelling in Japan at this period, and also because Spring is an ideal season to enjoy the country.
When to admire cherry blossoms during Spring
To plan you trip to Japan during Spring and to benefit from gorgeous sceneries offered by the sakura, it is essential to know the average blossoming calendar.
The sakura bloom depending on the Japanese region and the previous weeks’ weather, generally between the end of March and mostly the beginning of April each year, for the most touristic regions of Japan. However it does start as early as the end of January in Okinawa, which benefits from a more tropical climate, and continues up to the beginning of May in the north of Honshu and on Hokkaido, where temperatures are colder.
Here are the 2019 dates of hanami, provided by the Japanese weather association. The first buds are expected a few days before the starting date:
|City||Estimated start||Blossoming peak|
|Tokyo||March 24||March 31|
|Fukuoka||March 22||March 31|
|Nagoya||March 24||April 2|
|Nagasaki||March 21||March 30|
|Hiroshima||March 23||April 1|
|Kyoto||March 26||April 3|
|Takamatsu||March 26||April 3|
|Nara||March 27||April 3|
|Osaka||March 27||April 3|
|Kagoshima||March 26||April 6|
|Kanazawa||April 3||April 9|
|Sendai||April 11||April 16|
|Aomori||April 25||April 29|
|Sapporo||May 4||May 8|
The full blooming peak, called 満開 mankai, only lasts a few days. During this time, some of the most renowned and touristic sakura spots offer 夜桜 yozakura (light-up): the lighting of trees during nightfall, to appreciate them with a new eye.
When the petals start to fall down, it creates a false image of a snow storm, that is why we talk about 花吹雪 hanafubuki or 桜吹雪 sakurafubuki.
Once the blooming is over, the bad weather having swept away the flowers, the cherry trees let burst their powerful green leaves: we then call them 葉桜 hazakura (leafy cherry trees).
Where to do hanami in Japan
Here is a summary of touristic sites not to miss, by cities and regions, in order to enjoy as much as possible the beauty of sakura during the spring. Some of these sites listed below also offer a sakura matsuri ("cherry trees festival") where to do ohanami during the peak of the season.
For an optimal follow up of the short blooming season, it is strongly recommended to move with the Japan Rail Pass.
Tokyo and surroundings
- Tokyo: Shinjuku Gyoen (very large), Ueno park (the most crowded), Chidorigafuchi (pedalo rental), Naka-Meguro canal (Mekurogawa) or Shakujigawa, Asakusa Sumida park, Rikugi-en (and its huge crying cherry tree), Roppongi Mori park, Yanaka cemetery…
- Kamakura: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kencho-ji, Kotoku-in (Great Bouddha), Komyo-ji, Ofuna Kannon-ji
- Yokohama: Sankei-en park, Motomachi, Yamanshita, Kamonyama, Mitsuike and Mitsuzawa, the forest of Negishi park, Kishamichi promenade, Ooka river, Shomyo-ji river
- Tachikawa: Showa Kinen Koen park
- Izu: Kawazuzakura
- Chiba: park
Kyoto and Kansai
- Kyoto: Nijo castle, Philosopher’s path, Maruyama park, Okazaki canal, Keage, Heian shrine, Arashiyama, Daigo-ji, Kiyamachi street, Hirano shrine...
- Osaka: Kema Sakuranomiya park, Mint Bureau, castle, World Expo memorial park...
- Nara: the main big park in between the main temples, Wakakusayama, Koriyama castle, Heijo palace...
- Yoshinoyama: One of the most famous spots all around Japan with its 30,000 trees!
- Himeji : around the castle
- Wakayama : castle
Mt Fuji and surroundings
- Kawaguchiko (and its Shibazakura festival)
- Chureito Pagoda
- Odawara: around the castle
- Kanazawa: Kenroku-en, castle
- Nagano: Takato-joshi park
- Okazaki: around the castle
- Gifu: Takayama, Shinsakai river, Usuzumi
- Nagoya: Tsurumai park, castle
- Aichi: Okazaki park
- Hokkaido: Goryokaku parks (1,600 star shaped cherry trees) in Hakodate, Odori in Sapporo, Makomanai, Moerenuma and Matsumae, Shizunai Nijukken (Hidaka)
- Aomori: Hirosaki and Ashino parks
- Akita: Kakunodate
- Iwate: Kitakami Tenshochi
- Fukushima: the gigantic Miharu Takizakura, Hanami-yama park, Shinobuyama park
- Miyagi: Ogawara / Shiroishi-gawa Tsuzumi (1,200 sakura over 8 kilometers along the river)
- Niigata: around the castle / Takada park
- Yamagata: Kajo park
- Hiroshima: peace park, Senkoji park, Ueno park, castle, Shukkei-en garden, Ebayama park, Hijiyama park, botanical garden
- Miyajima: Itsukushima shrine
- Iwakuni: Kintai-kyo bridge
- Mihara: Mitsuki Hachimangu shrine, Mount Fudekage
- Onomichi: Senkoji park
- Fukuyama: castle park
- Kure: Ondo no Seto park
- Tottori: Utsubuki park, Minatoyama
- Okayama: Tsuyama castle, Korakuen
- Shikoku: Ritsurin park, Tokushima central park, Shiude-yama (Kagawa), Hirakiyama park / Matsuyama Shiroyama park (Ehime)
- Fukuoka: Maizuru park, castle, Atago shrine, Nishi park, Katsuyama park
- Kumamoto: castle, Isshingyo
- Nagasaki: Omura park
- Miyazaki: Saitobaru Kofungun, Goryohakamae
- Kitakyushu: Katsuyama park (Kokura castle)
- Saga: Mifuneyama Rakuen, Ogi park
- Akizuki: Akizuki Sugi no Baba
- Fukutsu: Miyajidake Jinja
- Kurume: Asai no Ipponzakura, Hyakunen park, Hosshin park, castle ruins
- Nakama: Habu park
- Itoshima: Kafuri park
- Kagoshima: Kotsuki river
- Nakijin castle
- Yogi park
... And so many other confidential places all around the archipelago.
As a last anecdote, the oldest cherry tree of Japan is found in Jisso-ji temple, in the Yamanashi prefecture, almost at mid-distance between Mt Fuji and Matsumoto. It is called 神代桜 Jindai Zakura, it would be more than 2,000 years olds and its trunk circumference reaches 13.5 meters!