Even the locals in Tokyo can get overwhelmed by the packed trains and bustling nightlife. When they do, they take weekend trips to coastal hot spring resorts in the Izu Peninsula. In February, Kawazu City gets a steady flow of visitors coming to celebrate the sakura season.
That’s right, cherry blossoms!
You’ve probably heard that the best time to see cherry blossoms in Japan is in April. That’s true for most of the country, but since there are so many varieties of sakura trees, the season can start as early as January and last until May. The Kawazu Hanami Matsuri is one of the earliest opportunities to see cherry blossoms near Tokyo.
Kawazu’s cherry trees (kawazu zakura) blossom long before most varieties in central Japan. The buds begin to open in February and grow at a very gradual pace. They last about one month, giving visitors ample time to plan a trip around the annual festivities. The peak bloom usually takes place around the last week of February and the first week of March, but the exact dates can fluctuate depending on the weather.
If you haven’t guessed by their name, Kawazu’s sakura trees are specific to this area. The locals discovered the first one in the 1950s and planted thousands along the Kawazu River. You can still see the original kawazu zakura faithfully blooming during the festival.
The main activities of the festival take place on the banks of the river. Approximately 8,000 of these extraordinary cherry blossom trees grow here. If you look at the flowers up close, you’ll notice that their petals are quite large and have a deep hue compared to other varieties.
In addition to taking in the sights, you can explore the rows of stalls selling a wide selection of authentic Japanese cuisine and souvenirs. You’ll come across dishes like yakisoba and other typical festival food, as well as local citrus fruits. Some stalls also sell kawazu sakura saplings to take home. However, keep in mind that many countries don’t allow travelers to bring seeds and plants from overseas.
Among the booths and flowers, you'll quickly notice how many other people are also attending the festival. The Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival attracts about two million visitors a year from different parts of Japan and around the world. If you go to Kawazu on a weekday morning, you might be able to avoid the biggest crowds.
You’ll also spot a few people enjoying picnics under the blossoms. They’re participating in what Japanese people call hanami, which is a time to relax as you look at flowers. If you don’t mind the chilly temperatures, you can step away from the strolling paths to unwind with a snack or drink.
Not only does the beauty and fun draw travelers, but it’s also easy to reach Shizuoka Prefecture by public transportation. It takes around two or three hours to get from Tokyo Station to Kawazu Station when you take the Izukyu Line. The river is a five-minute walk away from the station exit.
You might feel tempted to make your journey a simple day trip, but you don’t want to miss seeing the festival at night. From 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, the city illuminates the cherry blossoms with strategically placed lights. If you think cherry trees are beautiful during the day, the twilight views will take your breath away. Those who stay for this activity may want to consider booking a hotel for the night.
Shizuoka Prefecture’s ryokans offer plenty of options for both travelers on a budget and those looking for a luxurious experience. Staying in a traditional inn is an immersive cultural experience you don’t want to miss! As a bonus, an extra day here means you can also attend the Atami Baien Plum Blossom Festival. The white flowers bloom around the same time as Kawazu’s cherry blossom trees.