Not quite winter and not quite spring, March is an exciting time to visit Japan. In the north, you can catch the end of the skiing and snowboarding season, and in the south, you can see the flowers and trees coming back to life. While the beginning of March doesn’t usually see too many travelers coming to Japan, the season exponentially picks up in the latter half.
Here are some unique things to do in Japan in March.
Most people associate Japan’s iconic cherry blossom trees with April, and while it’s true most Japanese sakura varieties reach their peak bloom then, the season can begin as early as January depending on the species and where they grow. In southern Japan, the subtropical climate of Okinawa doesn’t usually dip too far below 15°C (59°F) in winter, and by March the Kyushu region starts to get similar temperatures. The early blooming of cherry blossoms in these warm climates makes southern Japan the perfect place to see cherry blossoms in March.
In Shimane Prefecture, one of the best places to see cherry blossoms is the historically significant Matsue Castle, noteworthy for being one of Japan’s remaining 12 original castles. You can see Japan through the eyes of the samurai as you take in the extensive view from the castle tower. The Kintaikyo Bridge in nearby Iwakuni City provides a particularly scenic stroll for visitors as the pink petals burst along the riverside. Remarkably, this 200-meter wooden bridge doesn’t have any nails. Instead, the same metal used to strengthen katanas reinforces the bridge. A fitting design for this historical samurai district!
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If your itinerary doesn’t lead you down south in early spring, don’t fret. You may or may not see cherry blossoms, but you will see the equally beautiful plum blossoms! The delicate flowers unfold with the arrival of spring in different shades of pink, red, and white.
Kairakuen Garden in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture holds a brilliant plum blossom display each year. It takes just an hour and a half to reach Mito from Tokyo Station—perfect for a day trip. Kairakuen is one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens, alongside Kenrokuen (Ishikawa Prefecture) and Korakuen (Okayama Prefecture). Daimyo Tokugawa Nariaki founded and designed the garden using light and dark themes. Around 3,000 plum trees of 100 varieties grow on the “light” side, and a bamboo forest shrouds the other half of the garden on the “dark” side. Other seasonal flowers include cherry blossoms, azaleas, wisteria and more.
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There’s only one word to describe AnimeJapan: whirlwind. Although this convention just started in 2014, it’s quickly become one of Japan’s most popular conventions, attracting about 150,000 attendees each year. Japanese people love going to anime and manga conventions to buy limited edition merchandise from their favorite series. At AnimeJapan, you can buy limited edition merchandise from your favorite anime and manga series, including “badges” featuring characters from a wide variety of genres. Unfortunately, vendors sell the badges by random lottery, so you can’t pick and choose the ones you want. You can, however, trade badges with your fellow otakus and perhaps make some new friends along the way!
If you’re not interested in shopping, it might be better to arrive at Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba after the entrance lines shorten at 10:00 am. Don’t wear any costumes en route! Japanese people find unusual getups disruptive, so most cosplayers bring their ensembles in a suitcase, change in a designated stall, and store their luggage in a coin locker.
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Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day) generally celebrates girls under 10 years of age. Japanese people decorate their homes with ornate dolls to wish for their children’s happiness and prosperity. The dolls wear Heian Period clothing and represent the royal family and their attendants. Usually, grandparents buy Hina Dolls for newborn daughters, and parents display them from around mid-February until March 3rd. On March 4th, families immediately disassemble the arrays as superstition dictates not doing so will bring calamity.
Places like the Kyoto National Museum and shrines around Japan hold their own Hina Doll Festivals but keep their displays up longer than families do. Visitors to Japan can enjoy these festivals and also try traditional Hinamatsuri dishes like sweet rice puffs called hina-arare. The pink, white, yellow, and green puffs represent the 4 seasons in Japan, and the dish is eaten for year-round happiness.
The Omizutori Festival (お水取り祭り) dates back about 1200 years making it one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist festivals. The celebration welcomes spring during the first two weeks of March in Nara. Priests perform solemn cleansing rituals and light giant torches at Todaiji Temple. Later, young ascetics brandish the torches and wave them in circles in front of spectators in a ceremony called Otaimatsu. The sparks that fly from the flames are said to protect from evil spirits.
On March 12th, the priests draw water from a well that only springs on this day for the Water Drawing ritual. The water for the current year is drawn into two pots. One pot contains water from the previous year, which gets mixed with the new water, and the other pot preserves all of the water collected over the past 1200 years!
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If you’re coming to Japan in March, make sure you pack a variety of spring and winter-wear depending on your destinations! If you’re staying from March to when the weather warms up in April…