Cherry blossom season, also known as the sakura or hanami flower-watching season, brings life and magic to Japan each spring. Admiring the flowers’ fleeting beauty is a practice that dates back over a thousand years. The small, delicate pink sakura and ume plum blossoms flower at different times throughout the season. The massive bloom starts in the far south, in Okinawa, and slowly works its way up to northern Japan in late May. It’s possible to follow the Japan’s Cherry Blossom festivals all the way up the coast, but be prepared to take your time and explore all the things to do in Japan along the way, because bloom and festival dates will vary depending how warm the year has been.
Hanami festivals are embraced and celebrated in so many different ways, but most involve eating (often home-cooked meals) and drinking out in the parks. Blossom viewing areas are the perfect places for people to enjoy the transitory season together, usually accompanied by performances, stalls, and activities. Wander into any convenience store in March or April and you’re sure to find pink and flower-themed goods, from coffees to sandwiches.
Here are some of Japan’s best Cherry Blossom festivals and where to find them:
Cherry Blossom Festival Japan Dates: March 19th to April 5th, 2021 ; Ueno Park. JR Tokyo Ueno Station.
One of the busiest festivals in Tokyo, Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival, is a favourite amongst visitors and locals alike. It’s been a prominent party spot for decades. Not just for the daytime, the Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival is also one of the best places to enjoy the flowers at night: the illuminated trees, known as yozakura, compliment the evening performances spectacularly. There are over 1,200 spell-binding cherry blossom trees at the park and picnic spots are set up in the grass for folks to enjoy.
While soaking up the spring, don’t forget to check out some of the park’s coolest sights — shrines and the famous Last Samurai statue make amazing additions to the festivities. While at the festival, you’ll be able to enjoy local crafts and food, take trips on the boating lake, and enjoy music and colorful dance performances. Strawberries are the local spring food, and you’ll find these in abundance here too.
Cherry Blossom Festival Japan Dates: Late March – Early April 2021 ; Meguro River, 2 Chome, Kamiosaki – Meguro or Naka-Meguro Station.
Often voted one of the best cherry blossom viewing areas in Japan, this 4km stretch of 800 trees line the Meguro River in Nakameguro, a district not far from Shibuya. The trees famously form a spectacular pink tunnel, which makes for some amazing photos. The festivities truly come alive at night here with fairy lights and illuminated paper lantern trees.
The park and surrounding areas become host to hundreds of food, drink, and craft stalls that stay open until after diner (typically around 9pm). Traditionally, the local cafes and restaurants that line the river fill their patios and terraces with seats, making this festival a real community affair. The view is best enjoyed by taking a leisurely stroll along the river or on one of the many river cruises that take you right under the trees, inviting the blossoms to gently sprinkle over as you as you float down the river.
Cherry Blossom Festival Japan Dates: April 1, 2021 to April 15 2021 ; Takada Castle – JR Takada (Niigata) Station.
Another spectacular castle surrounded by cherry blossom trees is Takada Castle: an estate in the Niigata prefecture two hours northwest of Tokyo. Over one million people make the trip to attend this gathering, and the grounds hold over 4,000 cherry blossom trees. They also light 3,000 lanterns at night (between 6-10pm), which makes this a breathtaking place to take nighttime pictures or just watch the amazing contrast of illuminated flowers, castle, and lanterns.
The grounds are host to a number of special events throughout the season, including the incredibly exciting and hypnotic Japanese taiko drumming, calligraphy presentations and workshops, and traditional dance performances. There are hot and cold sake stalls, takoyaki (squid balls) to try, and the addictive karaage (Japanese fried chicken) is always within an arm’s reach. Souvenir stalls selling masks and toys are dotted throughout the castle grounds, perfect for grabbing a lasting memento of the magical, flower-filled night.
Cherry Blossom Festival Japan Dates: April 15 to April 25 2021 ; Fuji Shibazakura Festival ; Kawaguchiko Train Station then bus to Kawaguchiko Sarumawashi Theater
It’s difficult to think of anywhere more incredible to see the Japanese cherry blossoms than at Mount Fuji itself. The Fuji Five lakes area is a hugely popular place to visit during this season. The festival is at the north shore of Lake Kawaguchi, and you can stay after sunset to enjoy the illuminated trees and evening festivities.
Here you’ll find the unique sakura onigiri, a rice ball made with salted cherry blossoms, as well as sakura mochi, a sweet and squishy bite-sized dessert. Settling down for a picnic here is a must — the view is so picturesque. And don’t forget to check out this region’s bonus festival: the Fuji Shibazakura, or Pink Moss Festival, that is held just 3km from Lake Motosuko and invites visitors to walk and picnic amongst a blanket of vibrant pink flowers, perfectly contrasting the iconic crisp blue mountain.
Cherry Blossom Festival Japan Dates: April 23rd – May 6th 2021 ; Hirosaki Castle Park, JR Hirosaki Station.
If you’re late to the hanami season, have no fear. The Hirosaki Castle Park festival, located in the Aomori prefecture in the far north of Japan, is one of the last (and most spectacular) festival locations of the season. More than a million visitors head to the 400-year-old castle every year to view the 2,600 trees that bloom throughout the park surrounding the castle.
Festivities surround the foot of the castle, both day and night, and involve street food (lots of bento boxes), craft stalls for special trinkets, and traditional Japanese music and dance. This particular festival lasts longer than most because it’s customary to view the fallen petals, which have settled on the castle’s moat long after the last petals have left the trees. If you’re looking for an otherworldly cherry blossom experience, this is the place to be.