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A Guide to The Cherry Blossom Festival in JapanEverything you need to know about Japan's Cherry Blossom Festival

Cherry blossom season

Every spring, Japan becomes the site of one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world, cherry blossom season. Every year Japan becomes enveloped in clouds of delicate pink petals as the cherry trees blossom. Not only is Japan’s cherry blossom season beautiful it is also steeped in history and ancient tradition making it one of the many highlights of the Japanese calendar. People travel to Japan from all over the globe to head outdoors to spend time appreciating nature's beauty and welcome the changing of the seasons. In recent years word of the cherry blossom season has spread far and wide and it has become a particularly popular time for travellers to visit Japan with many stunning landscapes and countless photographic opportunities. Whether you're planning a trip yourself or are simply interested to learn more about it, here you'll find a complete guide to the cherry blossom festival in Japan.

The history of cherry blossom season

Sanjusangendo Temple with a cherry blossom in bloom next to the arch
Sanjusangendo Temple

Before we get into how you can see the cherry blossoms in Japan on one of our guided tours lets first look at the history of Japan’s cherry blossom season. In Japan there is a word called ‘Hanami’ which translates to ‘flower viewing’, it is an ancient custom that encourages people to pause and appreciate nature. The tradition of Hanami dates back as early as the 8th century and originally began with the viewing of the plum blossom, the tradition eventually morphed into a focus on cherry blossoms. During these early periods in Japan's history, people believed that the trees possessed spirits and made offerings in their honour. The arrival of cherry blossoms was also viewed as a sign that rice-planting could begin. Many Japanese writers found inspiration in cherry blossoms with countless poems penned about the cherry blossoms as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life itself.

Historically these practices were limited to the Imperial Court with elaborate feasts, accompanied by sake, enjoyed by high officials under the blossoming trees. Slowly it trickled into samurai society and then the common people. During the 18th century shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune planted hundreds of cherry blossom trees so that the tradition would continue for generations to come. And continue it has, today the cherry blossom season in Japan sees locals and tourists alike partaking in picnics and going on walks under the beauty of the cherry blossoms across the country.

How is cherry blossom season celebrated?

Picnics under the cherry blossom trees
Picnics under the sakura trees

Spring begins around the end of March and with spring comes the cherry blossom season. The warmer weather awakens the trees from their months of hibernation, and they begin to bloom, with colourful pink blossoms bursting from the branches. Cherry blossom season in Japan only lasts a short while, about a week or two, but it’s a one of the most anticipated events of the Japanese calendar. The Japanese make the most of the event. Outdoor parties, picnics and street festivals capitalise on the warm weather and beautiful scenery. Artificial lights are used to ensure parties can last well into the night. It is these fun scenes that helped to coin the phrase "cherry blossom festival".

During the festival families and groups of friends spend the season in local parks and take advantage of the pretty blossoms. With an emphasis on the sharing of food and drink with evening gatherings that can last into the small hours of the night (known as yozakura). Paper lanterns often decorate the cherry trees for extra light and everyone partaking in the cherry blossom festivities can let their hair down and enjoy a little frivolity.

The Cherry blossom season is now a highly documented event in Japan with meteorological forecasts of when and where the blossoms will start. Newspapers and TV stations keep close track on the movement of the 'cherry blossom front' as it moves across the islands. With such a short period of activity, it's vital that you know where you need to be and when to make the most of the season.

How to celebrate like a local

Sakura flavoured snacks
Sakura flavoured snacks

Wherever you decide to enjoy a spot of hanami in Japan, doing like the locals do is an easy exercise. Simply visit a local supermarket, stock up on food or opt for a convenient Bento box, arm yourself with a picnic blanket and head to the nearest park. Take a moment to take in the beauty of the sakura and reflect on the beauty of nature before tucking into your tempura. If your taste buds are feeling adventurous, try some novelty sakura-flavoured treats like dumplings, crisps and canned drinks though be warned the taste is said to resemble a combination of lavender and soap.

It's a good idea to try hanami both during the day and at night to experience the change in atmosphere and appearance of the trees. Dusk is the ideal time to get out among the cherry trees as the soft colours of the dying light mean you get the best of both worlds, lanterns and lights are switched creating a soft glow perfect for enjoying the baby pink petals of the cherry blossom trees.

When it comes to the holiday planning, if you want to visit Japan for the cherry blossom festival, make sure you book well in advance as accommodation and transport sell out months ahead. Ideally you want your holiday booked a good six months before the start of the season. Talk to our tour specialists and check out our popular Cherry Blossom Festival tour to get started.

Best time to see the sakura trees

The exact start date changes each year but generally speaking the cherry blossom season on the main island starts at the end of March and continues through to May. However, the blossoms themselves only last for a few weeks and you may find sakura in one part of the country but not in another. The first blooms appear on the island of Okinawa as early as late January/early February. Much of Honshu (Japan's main island on which you'll find the capital of Tokyo) is in bloom during the months of March and April while the northern island of Hokkaido usually won't receive cherry blossoms until May.

If you want to follow the 'cherry blossom front' the trick is to start in the west of Japan and move with the blossoms across the middle section of the country. This way you'll be able to bask in the glorious pink landscapes as you travel around the main sights.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a rough guide to the movement of cherry blossoms in Japan. If you are planning on building a holiday itinerary around the cherry blossoms then it's best to keep a close eye on the official forecasts provided by private agencies in Japan.

When is the best time to book a cherry blossom tour?

Due to the high demand our cherry blossom tours sell out fast! If you want to book one of our cherry blossom tours, or one of our other Japan tours during cherry blossom season, we recommend booking around 10 months in advance to secure your spot on this once in a life time adventure.

The best tours for cherry blossom season

As one of the most sought-after natural events in the world its important to know the time and place to partake in the cherry blossom festival, and that’s where our tours come in. We offer a range of tours taking you to the most beautiful spots in Japan. For the best chance of seeing the cherry blossoms choose one of our cherry blossom specific tours, these tours are scheduled for the most optimal time and most beautiful places to see the pretty pink blossoms. We also offer many other tours of Japan running through the springtime meaning there is a chance to catch the cherry blossom festivals on these tours if you time it right. Below are our Japan tours specifically designed with the cherry blossom festival in mind. Our cherry blossom Tours sell out fast so be sure to book well in advance. We recommend booking our cherry blossom Tours around 10 months in advance.

Explore all of our Japan tours here

The best places to see the cherry blossoms

Mount Fuji

One of Japan's most iconic sights has to be that of snow-capped Mount Fuji and cherry blossom season is a prime time to enjoy those celebrated views. The Fuji Five Lakes area provides the best hanami opportunities, especially around the northern shores of Lake Kawaguchi where you can enjoy a serene boat ride. Alongside the cherry blossoms, the fields at the foot of Mt. Fuji also bloom with vivid hues of magenta as pink moss (shibazakura) carpets the landscape.

Japan tours: Discover the highlights of Japan

Whilst Japan is full of unforgettable highlights, these are the places that you really can't miss on your trip. From the heaving metropolis of Tokyo to the peaceful, rural tranquility of Miyajima Island and Kyoto - steeped in ancient history. Japan is a land of beautiful contrasts just waiting to be explored.

Kyoto

Japan's cultural capital is home to a plethora of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including some of the country's most famous temples and shrines. It's also the best place in the country to catch a glimpse of the famous geisha, especially the gion district.

Hakone

A stunning national park, home to Japan's most iconic view. Mount Fuji sits atop striking scenes of green woodland, crystal clear lakes, and inviting hot springs. Hike in this scenic region, and spend the night at a traditional ryokan.

Tokyo

Ever-evolving skylines, cosmopolitan corners, and neon-lit streets. Tokyo is a city headed for the future. But look closely for kabuki, sumo, tea, and sushi - tradition is everywhere. Tokyo is huge, so our Signature package tours spend four nights here, allowing you to take it all in.

Miyajima

An idyllic contrast to the chaotic capital, Miyajima is an enchanting island of rural charm, just off the coast of Hiroshima. Home to the floating torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine, and stunning views of Mount Misen and the Inland Sea.

Himeji

Traveling by bullet train to Himeji, our travelers will get to explore the elegant "White Egret" castle here. It's the best known and most complete example of Japan's traditional tiered castles and even survived heavy bombing during the Second World War.

Hiroshima

A city made famous by all the wrong reasons, a trip to Hiroshima is sobering and emotional, but it's an important and fascinating stop for travelers to Japan. Reflect at the Peace Park and see the A-Bomb Dome, one of just a handful of buildings to survive the atomic bomb.

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