In spring, the entire country of Japan is blanketed in a soft pink, thanks to the marvelous trees known as sakura. Starting at the beginning of March, the southernmost islands of Japan, including Okinawa, Kyushu, and Shikoku all start to see the buds on the cherry trees. Then, the blossoms start to unfurl, one by one, as the spring season moves from the south to the north until the end of May. If you are looking to enjoy hanami, otherwise known as “flower viewing,” you have plenty of places to see the sakura blossoms before they disappear.
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Here are the top 10 choices of parks and viewing spots in Japan, starting from the south and going all the way north:
1. Senkoji Park, Hiroshima
One of the top-rated parks for hanami happens to be in the historic Hiroshima, in Onomichi city, near the Seto Inland Sea. Because the soil here is rich, and the weather is balmy, sakura season (around mid-March to the beginning of April) feels a little like a holiday retreat. Pair visuals of the cerulean sea with the pink clouds of falling blossoms, shrines, and paper lanterns, and you have yourself the picture perfect setting for an amazing hanami party. You can even enjoy riding a ropeway up and over the park to see the cherry trees from a different perspective.
2. Osaka Castle, Osaka
Built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the famous Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s top 3 best castles to visit. In other words, sakura season here is epic. Next to the castle is the cultural asset, Nishinomaru Garden, which has 300 sakura trees and even an ume grove. All these trees bloom around the same time in March and April, creating a breathtaking display that frames the colorful castle. It’s a guaranteed time slip that you don’t want to miss.
3. Koriyama Castle, Nara
Although Koriyama Castle in Nara isn’t as magnificent as Osaka Castle, the grounds are just as stunning, and this area has quickly become the most popular hanami location in the entire prefecture. The reason is because the sakura here have been around for more than 400 years, delighting samurai and citizens for centuries. Also, if you arrive in late March and early April, you can enjoy the Yamatokoriyama Shiro Matsuri, a huge festival that brings food stalls, entertainment, and more to the castle grounds.
4. Nara Park, Nara
Nothing is more serene than watching the Nara deer graze along the edges of pink pools of sakura petals as sunlight filters through the branches. Nara Park is surrounded by UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Todaiji Temple, and an atmosphere Shinto shrine farther off, making Nara Park ideal for those who don’t want to spend all day admiring the beauty of sakura. While the park is small, no where else in Japan gives you the chance to feed deer and do hanami at the same time.
5. Lake Kawaguchi (Kawaguchiko), Yamanashi
Although you can’t climb Fuji between March and April, you can enjoy pure Japanese aesthetic when viewing the sakura around the lakes in Nagasaki Park. Take the trails to a higher elevation, and you can look over pink canopies to the snow-capped Fuji in the distance. Since the cherry blossoms here are higher above sea level than other places in Japan, they tend to bloom at the end of April, meaning this is the best location for those who missed the early blossoms in Tokyo and to the south.
6. Sankeien Garden, Yokohama, Kanagawa
Want to try some nighttime hanami? Head to the expansive Sankeien Garden in Yokohama, a city just south of Tokyo. Not only does this park have a century long history of supporting the arts, it has a nighttime illumination of the blossoms that shows you different representation of hanami. You can even take a boat ride on the lake. Giving the garden an even more Japanese feel are the replicas of buildings from Kyoto and Kamakura. You don’t want to miss this place.
7. Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Although Shinjuku Gyoen is a spectacular park to visit throughout the year, April is when this park comes into the height of its beauty for obvious reasons. There are a number of sakura trees spread throughout the grounds, along with another popular flowering tree, called ume, or plum. Though you need to pay a 200 yen entrance fee and alcohol is strictly prohibited, the quiet expanse, paired with the skyline of Tokyo in the background, makes Shinjuku Gyoen one of the best places of hanami in all of Tokyo. The best time to head here, though, is at varying times, since there are different species of sakura, which bloom all throughout the month of April.
8. Ueno Park, Ueno, Tokyo
Head to Ueno Park at the end of April, beginning of May, when the blooms are already at their peak. The reason why is because Ueno Park tends to get the most crowded during the first week of hanami season, since the flowers bloom the earliest here. You are bound to find the main walkways crowded with makeshift tables of cardboard boxes and folding chairs, which sometimes cost hundreds of thousands of yen just to reserve. Around the end of May, some cherry blossoms remain, and you can even join in on a sakura matsuri, or festival, too.
9. Yoyogi Park, Shibuya, Tokyo
Since Yoyogi Park is located near the ever-popular Shibuya and Harajuku areas, as well nestled up close to the stunning Meiji-Jingu, there’s no reason not to stroll along the winding paths through the groves of towering sakura. Here, the parties really take off, because alcohol is allowed here, as well as 24-hour usage of the park. Over 600 trees are scattered throughout Yoyogi, making it possible to find the perfect place for a picnic and people watching. Buskers and cosplayers tend to flock here, as well, so consider Yoyogi the pit-stop to Japanese culture.
10. Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Who knew a garbage pile could be so lovely? It’s no joke. Moerenuma was one a garbage disposal plant turned into a living piece of artwork by a famous sculptor named Isamu Noguchi. Now, Moerenuma is a go-to spot for camping, fountains, summertime pools, and sakura in the spring. The uniquely designed glass pyramid is another amazing feature to see; but the best part? It’s no doubt the Sakura Forest, featuring 2300 trees that bloom in Hokkaido’s springtime, which goes from late April until the end of May. It’s recommended to end your hanami trip, here, since Hokkaido has the last sakura of the season every year.
Which top hanami spot are you headed to first? You might choose to see all 10 of these top cherry blossoming viewing spots in Japan or select just a few. If you decide to visit Japan between March and May, though, no matter where you end up, there will be brilliantly blossoming sakura and ume trees for you to enjoy. Be sure to stop by the parks and keep your eyes and eyes open for the sounds and sights of festivals, which are plentiful during the spring.
Note: Source of photos: www.flickr.com.