It’s a picnic!
‘Hanami’ (flower viewing) is an age-old Japanese tradition. Travellers from the world over flock to Japan to witness the glorious cherry blossom season. For the locals, it is a time for barbeques, picnics , community gatherings and loads of sake (rice wine).
‘Sakura’ is the Japanese name for cherry blossoms and during season, Japanese companies make the most of it by introducing cherry blossom-themed products such as ice creams, food, clothes and merchandise. Sakura-flavoured beer is very popular!
Japan’s fascination for the cherry blossom
Sakura is considered to be a symbol for hope and renewal and it celebrates the arrival of the spring. Cherry trees are found in abundance but the flowers bloom only for a few weeks every year. With more than 200 varieties of cherry blossoms and hundreds of viewing locations, it can get overwhelming for a visitor to figure out where to be and when!
The best places to enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan
Here’s a list of the best places to view cherry blossom blooms in all their glory.
Mount Yoshino, Nara Prefecture
With more than 30,000 cherry trees, this area is truly a sight for the sore eyes. But prepare to be crushed by an avalanche of eager onlookers if you choose to go here during the peak season!
Cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji are two things that Japan is famous for. And if you plan well, you can enjoy both for the price of one! Mount Fuji is sheathed in cherry blossoms for about two months every year, and the best views are from Fuji Five lakes or Hakone regions.
This is a location in Osaka where the flower usually blooms during the last two weeks of April. Japan Mint opens its gates to the public along a 560-meter long corridor and the area is on the banks of the River Yodo. There are festivals held every year here and the tradition dates back to the 19th century.
In the middle of bustling Tokyo, there is Shinjuku Gyoen, which has more than a thousand cherry trees. The spot has both varieties of Sakura plants – the early-blooming as well as the late-blooming ones – which means that the flower viewing season here lasts longer than other places.
Located in Kyoto, this temple is a World Heritage Site. In 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi got 700 trees planted to throw a fabulous party and ever since, the temple is known for the beautiful view it offers of Japan’s national flower. The blooming season usually peaks between late March and late April every year.
Being the oldest and most popular park of Kyoto, people are found enjoying night-time Hanami here with lanterns being lit all around. You can expect the season to last till late April.
This is Japan’s most famous cherry tree. It is located in Fukushima Prefecture in the town of Miharu. This tree is more than a thousand years old and is absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s massive in structure and should not be missed if you happen to be anywhere around the place.
Takato Castle Ruins
Located in Nagano in Ina City, this place hosts an annual festival, complete with stalls and cultural events. Go here for nighttime Hanami because it is lit up with lanterns and lights to bring out the beauty of cherry blossoms.
This is Japan’s most loved castle and is located in the Hyogo Prefecture. It’s a World Heritage Site and has seen wars, fires and earthquakes, but has survived them all. The area looks absolutely stunning during spring and you will find many cherry trees surrounding the property.
How to ‘Hanami’ like a Japanese
Japanese are known for their love for cherry blossoms and if you are planning to be part of Hanami this year, make sure you do it like a pro!
• Reserve your spot: Some of the most popular spots are so busy during the peak season that it can be tough to find a place if you don’t reserve it in time! You can do so by spreading a picnic sheet over a spot. Don’t be a boor though by trying to take up too much space!
• Check beforehand: Not every spot allows picnics, so it would be helpful to check before you land there with your barbeque set and food.
• Garbage: Japanese are known for their love for cleanliness and it is your duty as a tourist to follow suit. Make sure you don’t leave behind any garbage or plastic waste even if you can’t find a garbage bin close by. Carry it with you to the nearest one and dump it there.
• Warm clothes: Most of Japan is chilly during cherry blossom season – carry adequate warm clothes since you will be spending most of your time outdoors.
When to visit
The most pertinent question! Here’s our detailed infographic on the blooming forecast across various locations in Japan. Be at the right place at the right time so that you don’t miss out even a bit of the cherry blossom magic.
Visa requirements for travel to Japan
Indian passport holders can now get a multiple entry visa for a maximum stay duration of 30 days. The visa comes with a 5-year validity. You can submit your visa application along with the supporting documents to the Japan Visa Application Centre in Delhi or at one of the drop-off locations across the country (details can be found on the VFS Global website). It typically takes 3 days to process the visa.
If you are going to vacation in Japan this year, it is worthwhile to time your trip around the cherry blossom season. Check out the best flight deals on Skyscanner and book well in advance since tickets can get really expensive around that time of the year.