In Japan, cherry blossoms are considered an iconic symbol and have been the center for many pieces of artwork. This little flower that blooms on the Sakura tree has entranced countless individuals with its beauty. People from far and wide have come to admire them during the cherry blossom festival in Japan.
The Japanese word for cherry blossom is sakura (桜). Throughout Japanese history, cherry blossoms have made appearances in art styles like ukiyo-e. Also, on one of the sides of the 100-yen coin is the image of the Japanese cherry blossom, which further shows the impact it has on Japanese society. Japanese cherry blossoms symbolize religious ideals in Buddhism especially the teachings of the transience of life. The short lifespan of the sakura trees' blossoms can be used to reference the shortness yet beauty of life. This can also be interpreted in the way you should treat others. Since life is short live it well because, just like the cherry blossom season, it can disappear at any time.
Yoshino sakura trees are the most common varieties seen in Japan. From a distance it has a white appearance, but up close you can see the pink hues on the five petals. Three thousand sakura trees of the yoshino variety were sent to Washington D.C. as a gift in honor of the relationship between Japan and the United States. By gifting the cherry blossoms proves the significance of the Japanese sakura to the Japanese people. In Japan, cherry blossoms also signify the beginning of a fiscal and school year in Japan. When the sakura season begins people are starting their new jobs and students begin their school year. The sakura season in Japan invokes feelings of hope as people set out to start a new chapter in their lives.
The sakura season in Japan has been a major attraction for tourists. The most common question people ask is “when is the cherry blossom season in Japan?” It is an easy yet difficult answer because it depends on the area we are talking about. The earliest you can see Japan's sakura trees in bloom would be in late January in Okinawa and latest would be in May in Hokkaido. You can chase cherry blossoms in Japan by starting in the south and traveling north! The dates for cherry blossoms is usually last through a two-week period in each region, that is if optimal conditions are met. Rainy, windy, cold, and warm weather can affect the cherry blossom dates for the sakura of Japan.
The best places to see cherry blossom festivals in Japan depend on where and when you plan on traveling. By breaking it down to regions you can get a better idea on where and when you should travel. The first sightings of cherry blossoms start in Okinawa due to the warmer weather. The next area where cherry blossoms bloom is in the Kyushu area. The Mifuneyama Rakuen in Saga Prefecture has 5000 Japanese sakura trees that contrast with the rugged Mount Mifune. It makes for a spectacle when it is combined with the 50,000 azaleas in the garden. After Kyushu the cherry blossom season starts in the Chugoku region. On Miyajima Island, which surrounds the Itsukushima Shrine, you can see the sakura blooming around the shrine, which is ranked one of the top three scenic views in Japan. The illusionary floating torii gate with cherry blossoms in the back drop is a sight worth the trip.
In the Kansai region the cherry blossom season starts around the end of March to the beginning of April. In this area you can venture to Kyoto and walk through historical structures while enjoying the cherry blossom festival. This would include famous sites like Kiyomizudera, a Buddhist temple with scaffolding that overlooks the Japanese sakura trees. Maruyama Park located in the center of Kyoto is one of the most popular spots to experience a hanami (cherry blossom viewing) festival. There is a 70-year-old shidarezakura (weeping cherry blossom) in the center of the park. Even the typical tourist spots like Kinkakuji, Fushimi Inari, Arashiyama, and Kyoto Imperial Palace gain an extra charm during Japan's sakura season. In the mountains away from Kyoto is a museum called Miho Museum. The special thing about this place is that there is a tunnel that leads to a road lined with sakura trees. The combination of the man-made structures with the natural environment is a nice atmosphere.
The Chubu region’s cherry blossom season dates start off right after Kansai, but in the mountains the timing differs due to the colder weather in the high altitude. In the city of Ina is Takato Castle Ruins where the Kohigan variety grows. This means the lifespan of this Japanese sakura species lasts much longer than the other types. For the full month of April, you can see the ruins covered in clouds of Japanese cherry blossoms. Shiga Prefecture has one of the original castles, Hikone Castle. You can see cherry blossom in Mt. Fuji, one of the most iconic symbols of Japan, and from the Gotemba Peace Park. As famous as Mt. Fuji is there are two other places where you can see Japanese cherry blossoms. In Kawazu you can start seeing the Japanese sakura trees in bloom from the end of February to early March. The reason being that the kawazuzakura trees in the area bloom much earlier compared to the other varieties. In Atami, they start appearing from the end of January to mid-February. Along the Itogawa River are cold resistant Japanese sakura trees and the sight makes for a nice stroll. Take the time to the Kawazu and Atami Cherry Blossom Festivals while in the area.
In the Kanto region the cherry blossoms start appearing towards the end of March to the beginning of April. Tokyo is the country’s capital and biggest metropolis. At Ueno Park, there are 1000 cherry blossom trees lined up along the path to the entrance. There are places all over Tokyo where you can see some of the Japanese sakura trees in season as you tour around. Close by Tokyo you can travel to Hakone and see Mt. Fuji in the distance while either cruising or traveling around Lake Ashi with cherry blossoms blooming around the body of water. North of the Kanto is the Tohoku region where the cherry trees start blooming around mid-April. In Morioka there are castle ruins that are a popular hanami spot for visitors. It is located in the center of the city and consists of just the castle walls. Still it is a great to visit in mid-April to see the grounds covered in cherry blossoms.
Hokkaido is one of the last places to see the cherry blossom season in Japan. It usually begins from late April and ends by the beginning of May. There are some amazing sites in Hokkaido to visit like Fort Goryokaku. The star shaped fort is littered with Japanese sakura trees that can be seen around the complex. You can go to the nearby tower to see the phenomenal structure from above. Then north of Matsumae Castle is a park with over 10,000 Japanese sakura trees planted with about 250 varieties. During this time there is a cherry blossom festival at the park from the end of April to late May. In Sapporo, you can take a nice stroll through Odori Park under a flurry of cherry blossoms.
When in season, the cherry blossoms become the centerpiece for an activity called hanami, which is a cherry blossom festival where people view Japanese sakura while eating a picnic. Hanami is an old custom that can be traced back to the 3rd century. Before that the plum (Ume) tree was the center for hanami and flower festivals in Japan, but it later changed to the cherry blossom during the Heian Period (794-1185). It became so wildly popular that hanami became synonymous with cherry blossoms.
Cherry blossom festivals in Japan used to be a custom that was only enjoyed by the elite until Edo period when hanami became commonplace. Cherry blossom festivals are not only enjoyed during the day. At night hanami is called yozakura. During this part of the cherry blossom festival season, temporary lighting is set up to illuminate the trees. Ueno Park is the best example of yozakura because of the paper lanterns hung throughout the area. During the Edo period Tokugawa Yoshimune planted many Japanese sakura trees in various areas for people to enjoy the cherry blossom festival season in Japan.
A modern day cherry blossom festival utilizes tarps, mats, blankets or anything of convenience. In popular cherry blossom viewing spots people reserve spaces well in advance and leave one person to guard it. People participating in cherry blossom festival bring food and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Conversations filled with exchanges of stories in an atmosphere of merriment, while admiring the beautiful cherry blossoms, is a great way to enjoy the sakura season in Japan.
The cherry blossom festivals in Japan are usually held during the peak blooming periods. Cherry blossom festival dates are scheduled based on the region. For example, the cherry blossom festival in Tokyo would be held in the beginning of April while the one in Hokkaido happens in late April.
At the cherry blossom festivals you can go around the various food stalls, play some games, and stroll around under the Japanese sakura trees. Some cherry blossom festivals have entertainment prepared for patrons to enjoy. Also, you might find some limited-edition sakura flavored food and drinks at the cherry blossom festivals.