If you’re keen to witness the marvel that is cherry blossom season in Japan but don’t want to battle the crowds, there are plenty of other sites around the country known for their springtime floral displays. Here are some of our favourites…
It’s March, and you know what that means – Japan is gearing up for yet another cherry blossom (sakura) season, one of the first signs of spring’s arrival.
Revered and celebrated as early as 794, each year, people travel from all corners of the globe just to witness this floral frenzy, and if you’re one of the ones planning your perfect sakura viewing holiday in Japan, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Japan’s cherry blossoms bloom at different times depending on climate, geographical location and the type of tree. A good rule of thumb is the further north you go, the later the cherry blossoms start blooming.
This year, because Japan’s winter has been warmer than average and the mild weather is expected to continue, the cherry blossoms are expected to generally open earlier than average, with a predicted date of March 20 for Tokyo and March 23 for Kyoto.
But if you’re not a big fan of crowds, set your sights beyond the usual, popular sakura viewings spots of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. There are a range of lesser-known, equally rewarding experiences away from these tourist hubs, beginning with some of Japan’s gorgeous onsen (hot spring) towns like Kinosaki, Kinugawa, Yamashiro and Tamatsukuri. Not to mention, at these spots not only will you tick sakura viewing off your bucket list, but you can reward yourself at the end of the day with a relaxing soak!
One particularly charming place to see sakura both at daytime and night is along Kinosaki’s quaint Kiyamachi Street. Sakura trees line the small canal and create a soft pink canopy for nearly one kilometre, stretching all the way back to the town’s ropeway.
When in Japan, do as the Japanese do and spread your picnic blanket under the cherry blossom trees and enjoy the flowers while eating a packed lunch – a traditional pastime in Japan called ‘hanami’ (flower-viewing).
Another spectacular place to enjoy hanami is in Izushi, an ancient castle town located just a short bus ride from Kinosaki. There, the sakura trees decorate the perimeter of the Izushi Castle ruins making the location feel as if it’s straight from a fairytale.
Keep in mind that normally the trees in the town of Kinosaki Onsen itself, as well as the nearby beachside town of Takeno, the castle town of Izushi and the countryside area of Tanto will bloom earlier than the ones at the higher elevations in the mountains of Kannabe. On average, they tend to start to bloom anywhere from the last week of March to the first week of April and will bloom for about one week. If you do miss the ones in Kinosaki Onsen or Izushi you can try your luck in Kannabe.
Kinugawa Onsen lies in the Tochigi Prefecture and with its natural hot springs and pretty riverfront, is another beautiful spot to admire the sakura. If you are a night owl, explore Kinugawa’s Night Cherry Blossom Festival located in the Gokoku Shrine. Home to a cherry blossom tree that is over 500 years old, travellers can enjoy the delicate blooms illuminated by lanterns in a scene that is nothing short of magical.
If you’re staying at hotel KAI Kinugawa, you’ll also get to enjoy the cherry blossoms during at a Cherry Blossom Outdoor Bath and the Mingei Yozakura (evening cherry blossom) Bar. At the outdoor bath, guests can admire the petals in full bloom while relaxing in the famous waters of Kinugawa Onsen.
Another natural springs town, Yamashiro is an-off-the-beaten-path destination that rewards visitors in the spring with incredible views of the cherry blossoms, minus the crowds. A visit to Rojo Park will delight any traveller, with over 130 cherry blossoms trees to view there. Visitors can also enjoy museums, teahouses serving sakura based delicacies and the Komatsu Castle, which gives guest brilliant views of the blossoms. To ensure that you get the best views head to this location in late March or early April.
If you’re looking for a unique way to take in the spectacle in Yamashiro Onsen, why not take a cruise along the Daishoji River, Kaga’s most famous cherry blossom spot, from a hand paddled riverboat. Chartered exclusively for KAI Kaga guests, each cruise is guided and steered by an expert boatman.
The Tamayu River, running adjacent to the hotel KAI Izumo, is lined with about 400 cherry trees over a two-kilometre-long stretch and is one of Shimane Prefecture’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spots.
If you’re staying at the hotel, you can enjoy an evening picnic of traditional Japanese sweets while admiring the beauty of these cherry blossoms as they are lit up, and witness a traditional Iwami Kagura dance with a special spring theme, performed nightly.
Hirosaki Park near Owani Onsen in the Aomori Prefecture is home to no less than 2,600 cherry trees with over 50 different types of cherry. It is lauded as one of the best – and largest-scale – cherry blossom sites in Japan, and over 2,000,000 visitors visit the park during the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, which is held annually between April 23rd and May 5th. Ok so this isn’t the place to go during cherry blossom season if you really want peace and quiet, but the beauty of the area at this time is such that we reckon the crowds you’ll come across there are a small price to pay.
Hirosaki Park is also home to Hirosaki Castle, where you’ll find with one of the most spectacular sakura viewing spots in all of Japan – the Sakura Tunnel (cherry blossom tunnel) on the west moat. Visitors can also paddle a small boat to view blossoms reflecting off the moat, come at night to see the trees illuminated, or see the grounds carpeted in falling blossoms. Sheer perfection.
Himeji Castle, which sits square in the centre of the town of Himeji Japan, is considered one of Japan’s 100 most famous places for viewing cherry blossoms. About 1,000 Yoshino cherry trees exist within the 230,000-square metre moat area surrounding the castle, bathing the World Heritage site in a shower of pink petals every spring. This historic site is well worth the visit to the Hyōgo Prefecture.