Trip Planning Advice for Cherry Blossom (Sakura) Festival Visitors to Japan by a Local

Cherry blossom season is undoubtedly the most beautiful time in a year in Japan.
Probably some of you are planning to travel thousands of kilometers by plane to catch the best season.

Then, it is very natural that you have a question in your mind.
“When EXACTLY are the best days for cherry blossoms? When do they bloom fully?”
You are searching for cherry blossom forecast to avoid disappointment and to have a fantastic trip for your spring holiday, aren’t you?

It is like this when cherry blossoms bloom fully! (Ueno Park, Tokyo)

In this post, I’d like to answer the question from a viewpoint of a Tokyo local. I write 6 facts with my own experiences and the conclusion at the bottom. I hope this post will be helpful for your travel planning.




1: Late March to Early April

The 1st theory is the most basic; Cherry Blossom Season is late March to early April in most places in Japan.

The next step to learn is that cherry buds start to open in late March, it takes 7 to 10 days to reach the peak, so they bloom fully in early April.

For example, please see the forecast and reports in 2015. I believe that it is helpful for you to get an example of one spring.
Cherry blossoms started to open on 23 March and reached to the peak on 29 March in Tokyo in 2015 – It was earlier than average years.

Local’s Point
When I say that cherry blossoms start to open, I must say that the views are still lonely…

Cherry trees with buds… In Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, Tokyo

But it is a story about standard kinds of sakura such as Somei Yoshino.
Generally, when cherry trees are still full of buds, weeping cherry trees are at the peak!

A weeping cherry tree in Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens, Tokyo

If you are traveling in March, I strongly advise you to see plum (Japanese aplicot / ume) blossoms and early-blooming cherry blossoms. They are really beautiful, too. It is too early to regret your travel schedule.

Yoyogi Park when standard cherry trees are full of buds!

 

2: Sakura Front – Which Cities in Japan do you visit?

The 2nd thing to learn is also easy.
Cherry blossoms bloom when spring comes.
Therefore, warm southern cities welcomes cherry blossom season first and the “sakura front” advance to colder cities and mountains.

Concretely, cherry blossoms start to open in Kyushu region (the western island in Japan that includes Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, etc.) first. Then, sakura season spreads to West Japan (Kyoto, Osaka and Nara are in West Japan) and East Japan (Tokyo is here!) almost at the same time.
Cherry blossoms go to North Japan in late April. Hokkaido welcomes them in early May and it is the last of cherry blossom season in Japan. (Please see the next topic about it.)

For example, cherry blossoms start to open in Kyushu on 22 March, which is earliest in Japan, in 2015. In Tokyo on 23 March – This year was not a very good example about this. The difference was just one day, but it is around 4 days in average years.

Local’s Point

I suggest that you divide Japan into 3 parts when you plan a cherry blossom viewing trip. They are East – West Japan, North Japan and Hokkaido.
I suppose Osaka, Kyoto and Nara are in your mind as destinations in Japan as well as Tokyo, and I don’t think that there are big differences of sakura front between these cities. It is all right to decide your destinations by your interests.

3: The Peak Lasts for 7 -10 Days

When cherry blossoms bloom fully, the most beautiful days in a year in Japan last for around one week!

Asakusa Sakura Festival along Sumida River

 

Chidorigafuchi (Imperial Palace)

 

Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park, Tokyo
Around Shinobazu Pond in Ueno – I recommend this place the most!

In 5 days, they start to fall little by little, and it is definitely part of the peak. When many cherry blossoms stay on the branches and some are fluttering in spring breezes, it is as if it were snowing on a sunny spring day. Cherry petals are floating in ponds and rivers.

Cherry petals are floating in Ueno Park

When all blossoms fall in 7 to 10 days, the season of standard sakura ends and that of late-blooming sakura starts.
When standard cherry blossoms leave from Tokyo, “sakura front” goes to North Japan. So if you chase standard cherry blossoms, plan a trip to North Japan such as Akita, Yamagata, Iwate, Aomori, etc, where they bloom in late April.
In Sapporo, the central city of Hokkaido, cherry blossom season in early May.

Local’s Point

The peak came early these years. I remember that cherry blossoms were blooming fully at school entrance ceremony held on 8 April, but they were almost gone on 8 April in 2015. Is it because of global warming? I don’t have any answer.
I advise you to see my reports in 2014 and 2015 as good examples, but please note that the peak was earlier than average in both two years.

North Japan is a beautiful place. As far as I see it, Kakunodate in Akita Prefecture is very famous for cherry blossoms in the old samurai town. Sakura front goes to Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture and Hakodate in Hokkaido later than Akita.
Talking of North Japan, I can’t help referring to Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture although it is not known as a cherry blossom spot. It is a rural town built to realize Heaven in Buddhism in this world. It is registered as a World Heritage Site. If you consider to visit North Japan, I really want to suggest a trip to Hiraizumi.

In my opinion, the combination of pale pink cherry blossoms and the clear blue sky is the best view in a year in Japan.
It is sunny on many days in spring, but sometimes clouds tease us… Then, I suggest sakura viewing in the evening. It’s dark at night anyway, so clouds are nothing!

Cherry blossoms & red lanterns in Ueno Park Sakura Festival

4: Cherry Blossom Forecast Starts in January

Some Japanese weather forecast companies release cherry blossom forecast every year.
It often starts in late January because weather in December is deeply related.

Local’s Point
As far as I see it, there are few differences between the forecasts of different companies.

The problem is that the forecast changes day by day… That’s why I updated Cherry Blossom forecast 2015 many times.

5: Depend on the weather!

For inquiries please ask cherry trees.

Please ask them, “When will you open?” I’m serious!

The days cherry blossoms bloom depend on the weather in winter and March, so the peak is different every year.
Although there are many forecasts around, none of them is precise because no one can tell the weather in the future and cherry trees’ feelings.
I talked about my experiences as a Tokyo local, and I have some suggestions in the following, but nobody knows whether it goes like that next year. (*Please plan your trip based on your own decision. I do not take any responsibilities for your actions and damage based on my sites.)
Humans cannot tell exactly when cherry blossoms bloom forever.

6: Cherry Blossom Spots in Tokyo – Photos, Reports, My Comments & Visitor Information

I listed up cherry blossom spots in Tokyo in the following. I suppose you want to see the places in the photos above. Each link includes visitor information.
Enjoy browsing the beautiful views and find your favorite places to visit during your trip.

1: Ueno Park
In my opinion, Ueno Park is the best sakura spot in Tokyo!
Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) Ueno, Japan – Why You Shouldn’t Miss Shinobazu Pond!

Tokyo Cherry Blossoms Information 2014 (Ueno Park)

2: Chidorigafuchi (Imperial Palace)
Traditionally it is one of the most popular cherry blossom spots in Tokyo.
Imperial Palace / Chidorigafuchi Sakura Matsuri (cherryblossom festival) – Photos & Tourist Info

Tokyo Cherry Blossoms Information 2014 (Chidorigafuchi & Imperial Palace)

3: Asakusa & Sumida River
You’ll never get bored in Asakusa in cherry blossom season.
Tokyo’s Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Spots Part 2: Asakusa & Sumida Riverside

Tokyo Skytree is near Asakusa.

4: Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens
This garden is so large that some flowers are blooming anytime.
Tokyo’s Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Spots Part 1: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen is famous for late-blooming cherry blossoms.
Cherry Blossoms for Travelers Visiting Japan Later than Standard Sakura

5: Rikugien Gardens
Rikugien is famous for the very big weeping cherry tree.
The Full-Blooming Weeping Cherry Tree in the Japanese Garden of Rikugien – photos & reports

6: Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens
Tokyo’s Cherry Blossom (Sakura) Spot – Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

It is an interesting Japanese garden.

7: Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens
Tokyo Tower is seen over cherry blossoms.
A Guide to Hamamatsucho – All About its Attractions, Hotels and Transportation

8: Yoyogi Park (Harajuku)
Cherry Blossoms for Travelers Visiting Japan Earlier than Standard Sakura – I’ll report it at the peak next year!

In Conclusion

My answer to the question at the beginning is the following.

If you visit Japan on 2, 3, 4 April, the possibility to catch the best season is the highest.

From my experiences in Tokyo, I am strolling under pale pink blossoms under the clear blue sky on these days almost every year I remember. I cannot guarantee it, but if you plan a trip to Japan on 1 to 7 April, for example, it won’t be pointless.

I believe that the information in this post is minimum and maximum at the same time. 

I hope you’ll have a fantastic sakura viewing trip. Good luck!



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