From chrysanthemums to violets, flowers have served as important symbols in Japanese culture. Influential families decorated their crests with blossoms, and several schools of ikebana developed around the art form of arranging flowers. These days, gardens and parks throughout the country maintain seasonal blooms through winter. For travelers, the best time of year to see flowers in Japan is spring through summer.
During the warm months, you can participate in “flower viewing” parties. Known as hanami in Japanese, these celebrations take place when the petals reach their peak blooms. While tourists run from one stalk to the next snapping thousands of photos, tradition dictates that this is a time to relax with friends and family and eat a picnic. Whichever way you choose to spend your time, it takes some strategic planning to make the most of your trip to Japan.
Annual weather and the effects of climate change can affect yearly blooms. However, thanks to decades—and sometimes centuries—of careful cultivation, we can predict the best times to visit different parts of Japan. Here’s our guide to our favorite Japanese flowers, and when and where you should go.
Most say that the best time to visit Japan for cherry blossoms is in April. While they’re not wrong, the cherry blossom season lasts much longer than you might think. The Japanese archipelago stretches through several climates, including subarctic and subtropic conditions. Technically speaking, you can see the sakura trees starting to bud as early as January and the last petals dropping in May.
In the deep southern regions, Okinawa’s Nago City rings in the new year with its cherry blossom trees opening in January and February. At Takeo Onsen hot spring in Kyushu, the Mifune Yama-Rakuen garden has about 5,000 trees that peak from mid-March to early April. Next comes the Chugoku region, where you can take part in traditional Japanese cherry blossom festivals on Miyajima Island roughly around the same time as Mifune Yama-Rakuen.
From early to mid-April, cities like Kyoto and Tokyo get more than their fair share of pink hues. First-time travelers to Japan won’t want to miss seeing cherry blossom flowers in places like Kiyomizu Temple and Ueno Park during this time of year. However, be warned that these places can see swarms of crowds, so try to go on weekday afternoons. If you want more elbow room, head to Hokkaido’s Matsumae Castle from late April to early May.
Most types of sakura trees only last around two weeks. Combined with their temperamental nature, it can be tricky to plan an international trip around them. However, lavender flowers can last for over a month! While most areas of Japan are too humid for lavenders, Hokkaido’s mild summer makes the lavender farms in Furano and Biei flourish.
Farm Tomita has several lavender fields and stunning gardens that bloom and wilt depending on the varieties they grow. For most of the areas like the Traditional Lavender Field, Irodori Field, and Lavender East, you can get the best views in mid to late July. Biei’s Shikisai Hill blooms around the same time. The lavender festivals end in August when the harvest begins.
In Japanese culture, wisterias represent love and longevity. We often see the vibrantly colored and aromatic petals represented in art, poems, and formal kimonos. Buddhists also love wisteria trees because their descending formations resemble heads bent in prayer. Like cherry blossoms, they bloom early in the south and late in the north, and you can experience both festivals if you’re traveling in spring.
If you’re in Kyushu from April to mid-May, head to Kawachi Fujien Garden to see some of the best-known wisteria flower tunnels in Japan. Over 20 varieties of Japanese wisteria trees make up these spectacles and range in color from pure white to deep purple. If you’re near Tokyo, you can see the “Great Miracle Wisteria” in Tochigi Prefecture’s Ashikaga Flower Park around the same time. The 150-year-old tree is so massive that beams have to support its branches!
Shibazakura is the Japanese word for moss phlox. Their colors and shapes look like cherry blossoms, but they carpet the ground rather than hang from trees. Their season lasts from April to June, and they make a great addition to any cherry blossom tour. Joyous festivals pop up around the country to celebrate their bloom, but most Western travelers still haven’t heard about them yet!
Near Mount Fuji, 800,000 shibazakura flowers grow in varying shades of magenta and pink. In May, the Fuji Shibazakura Festival opens and features gourmet food stalls, a hot spring footbath, and more. Further north in Hokkaido, one million moss phlox grow in Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park. In addition to walking through the grounds, you can charter a helicopter to take in the view from above.
You could say the baby blue eyes (nemophila menziesii) are the lastest flower craze in Japan. Their azure petals pair well with cherry blossoms, and if you’re lucky, the two seasons can overlap. They tend to reach their full bloom in mid-April, and these delicate treasures attract locals and travelers alike in droves.
Near Tokyo, 4.5 million baby blue eyes grow on Hitachi Seaside Park’s Miharashi Hill in Ibaraki Prefecture. Entering through the West Wing Gate, you’ll pass narcissus and daffodils before looping around to see 250,000 tulips in the Tamago no Mori Flower Garden. A short walk from here, and you’ll reach the baby blue eyes, which bend with the gentle breezes from the nearby shore on the Pacific.
Most varieties of cherry blossom trees in the Kanto region bloom in April, but the kawazu zakura type buds in late February and lasts through early March. Kawazu City is a small town in the Izu Peninsula that is easily accessible from Tokyo by train. If you haven’t guessed by their name, kawazu zakura trees are specific to this region and have deeper hues and larger petals than other cherry blossoms.
A short walk from Kawazu Station takes you to the festival, which happens during the peak bloom. The main activities include browsing the food, drink, and souvenir booths that open along the Kawazu River, where 8,000 trees grow. Despite the chilly conditions, however, you’ll also spot a few people holding picnics underneath the branches. At night, spotlights illuminate the flowers from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.