A guide to Japan’s cherry blossom season

The country’s annual cherry blossom season is a riot of color and cultural festivities. It’s also given rise to a flavor of KitKat. We travelled to Japan to find out what it’s all about.

A gift for the senses

Once a year, between the end of March and the final flush of May, crowds eagerly gather to enjoy the much-adored cherry blossoms of Japan. And with over 1 million sakura trees (the highest concentration of cherry trees in the world), it’s no surprise they make for a truly breath-taking spectacle.

Sweeping from the south of Japan to the north in a wave of explosive color, bright sprays of sakura – as the flower of the blossom is known – take over almost every park, temple, and street. This riot of candy floss pink and dusty white (like raspberry juice discoloring a glass of milk), makes everyone in the country stop and stare. Quite literally.

Onitsura, the famous Japanese Edo-period poet, put it another way:

‘And so the spring buds burst, and so I gaze.’

– Uejima Onitsura

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We’re with him on this. Put simply, the tranquil yet captivating beauty of the cherry blossom season is something you need to see to believe.

But the blossom isn’t just about pretty flowers (and they are pretty). It also carries immense cultural significance.

Centuries ago, local samurai brought hundreds of these weeping trees from the country’s then capital, Kyoto, to Kakunodate – in the far north. These gifts would bud, and swell, and grow, kicking off a form of gentle social competition between the area’s nobility (the original garden hedge argument, basically.)

The samurai knew that the blossom was beautiful. But it was also so much more than that.

When is cherry blossom season in Japan?

In Japan, cherry blossom season generally takes place in spring between late March and early April. But there can be exceptions to the rule.

On Japan’s southern subtropical islands, the cherry blossom can open as early as January, while in the far north – in Hokkaido – the buds may bloom well into May. Simply put, it’s better to think of it as a gently rolling, floral wave rather than a singular ‘event.’

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know and everywhere you need to go to get an eyeful of this most Japanese of flowers.

cherry blossom japan
cherry blossom with building in japan

What is hanami?

Hanami is the Japanese art of springtime flower watching. And during the eye-catching cherry blossom festival that marks the arrival of the bloom, nearly everyone partakes in this mesmerizing pastime.

Like much else in Japan, it’s an art taken into overdrive; giving life to everything from vibrant street festivals to a blossom flavor of KitKat. No complaints here.

It’s also a floral spectacle that brings people from every walk of life together. Many like to gaze at these nougat-colored wonders while eating seasonal sweets and sipping on fruit wines in one of Japan’s many parks – a charming way to enjoy the cherry blossom season.

Older Japanese may choose to watch the plum and peach blossoms instead as these crowds tend to be quieter (you’ll also be rewarded with plum wine, which isn’t a bad excuse).

The flowers themselves – tiny starlets of pink, red and white – of course have deep cultural significance in Japan, where their short-lived existence taps into a long-held appreciation of the beauty of life’s transience. This is known in Japanese as mono no aware, meaning ‘an empathy toward things.’ Belonging to Japanese Buddhism, this bitter-sweet concept recognizes the fundamental impermanence of life. Here today, gone tomorrow.


Japanese triptych print showing people walking along the Sumida River, among cherry trees in full bloom.

How long does the cherry blossom season last?

Running from late March to early April, the cherry blossom season is heartbreakingly brief with sakura living for only two short weeks. Hanami reminds the Japanese that life is short, and they must make the most of it.

By the end of the season, the pavements will be littered with mucky, crumpled stains of pink. Torn shreds of petals. Life goes on. And of course, there’s always next year.

In Japan, the cherry blossom season is an annual event. Warmer weather is the spark that encourages these short-lived trees to bloom. Accordingly, daily broadcasts from the Japanese Meteorological Agency will amp up the hype once the blossom arrives in March, tracking the impressive floral wave as it moves northward with the approach of yet warmer weather.

Aside from their eye-popping beauty and their pandering to a sense of mild existential angst, the blossom quite literally embodies some of Japan’s most deep-rooted cultural and philosophical beliefs. For this reason, hanami is enthusiastically enjoyed both in the countryside and the city, among the young and the old.

And, regardless of where you go, it’s easy to roll a blanket under the trees and ponder the transient nature of life against this startling backdrop. We recommend watching the photoshoots that take place around – and often in – these dusky trees. There’s a great selfie opportunity if you’re willing to climb. But don’t fall, please.

If you wish to travel to Japan to catch a glimpse of these breath-taking blooms, our travel experts will plan your trip accordingly to give you the best chance of seeing them at their most charming.

Cherry Blossom Festival Japan
cherry blossom garden in japan

When is the cherry blossom festival in Japan?

Happily, there isn’t just one singular cherry blossom festival. Different festivals are held across the country during the season with the bulk of the festivities taking place between March and May. They are an opportunity for everyone to gather in hanami with picnics under the blossoming trees while traditional performances and tea ceremonies also take place.

If there is a particular festival you’d like to see, just let one of our luxury travel experts know and they’ll be sure to incorporate it into the planning of your trip.

When to start planning your cherry blossom trip

The blooming of the cherry blossom in Japan is a highly anticipated annual event. In short, the earlier you plan the better.

Due to the small window of this natural wonder, authentic Ryokan accommodation is often snapped up by the end of winter – but don’t worry, get in touch early and we’ll help you time your trip perfectly.

cherry blossom branch in japan
japanese lanterns and woman

The best places to see the cherry blossoms in Japan

Now you know when the cherry blossom season takes place and how locals (and visitors) celebrate it, let’s look at the best places to see the cherry blossom in Japan.

Shibuya Canal, Tokyo

Tokyo offers a capsule view of Japan, with everything the country is known for finding a stage here. A perfect mix of the natural with the modern – here, you’ll spot the beauty of the cherry blossoms before walking through modern Harajuku neighborhoods.

The city may be famed for its concrete and skyscrapers, but its plethora of parks and gardens mean that it’s just as beautiful a place to experience the cherry blossom festival as the rest of Japan. There are numerous picnic-friendly locations in the city, including stately Ueno Park, which plays host to 1,000 of the trees.

Nakameguro is a creative neighborhood south of bustling Shibuya with a popular cherry-tree-lined canal. After dark, the boughs are strung with lanterns, casting warm light as revelers pick their way between food and drink stalls below.

While there, we’ll arrange for you to learn not just the art of flower watching, but also that of ninja training and sumo wrestling – if you fancy it, or course. After all, this is your trip, and our luxury travel experts will tailor it completely to your wishes.

Nakijin Castle, Okinawa

The cherry blossom begins in the South, on the island of Okinawa. The blooms in this region are often bell-shaped and a deeper shade of pink than other regions, with the first flush arriving in the middle of January.

We recommend sighting the sakura among the ruins of Nakijin Castle, where a world-famous tunnel of cherry trees is illuminated with lanterns every night during sakura season.

For something a little wilder, the island of Kyushu (north of Okinawa) is famed for its balmy climate and hot spring (onsen) baths. It’s also home to the tiered castle of Kumamoto City, with over 1,000 cherry trees blooming there each year.

The Kamo River, Kyoto

The ancient capital of Japan is also one of the best places in which to view the blossom. This is partly because the city is crammed with parks and picturesque historical attractions.

Some of the best spots for hanami include Maruyama Park, which is guaranteed to be packed with picnickers from day to night. Another excellent choice is the Philosopher’s Path. Following a cherry-lined canal for two miles between two of Kyoto’s most significant temples – Ginkaku-ji and Nanzenji Temple – you’ll wander among the flourishing blossom to your heart’s content. Alternatively, head to the Kamo River, which flows through the city and whose length is lined with large cherry trees (and many stunning restaurants).

But a glimpse of these picturesque Japanese flowers is not all Kyoto has to offer. Visiting here offers a look at traditional, old-world Japan and it is also home to geisha culture, particularly in the Gion neighborhood. On one of our bespoke Japan vacations, we’ll arrange for you to enjoy an elegant tea ceremony. In traditional attire, of course.

Cherry Blossom Festival Japan
castle in japan with cherry blossom

Blossom in the north

Last but by no means the least, the north of Japan experiences its cherry blossom season from April into May.

Tohoku, the northeastern region, is a mecca for cherry blossom connoisseurs. Other locations include the dramatic scenery of Hitome Senbonzakura in Miyaki, where over 1,000 cherry trees line the river and are set against a dramatic backdrop of snow-covered peaks. It’s quite literally picture perfect.

Others will head to delightful Kakunodate, which is famed for its romantically weeping cherry trees which were brought specially from Kyoto hundreds of years ago by local samurai. While this was done as a form of gentle social competition, there’s nothing adversarial about the sight today.

Our luxury travel experts will also arrange for you to visit the fascinating samurai district of Kakunodate. With some of the best examples of samurai architecture in all of Japan, you’ll instantly feel transported into the world of Japanese warriors.

Mount Yoshinoyama

Mount Yoshinoyama is divided into four areas of trees which can be enjoyed as you slowly ascend the mountain. Climbing gradually higher, you’ll be met with fresh crisp air and stunning views of luscious hillside, all while you become more and more immersed in the candy-colored hues of sakura. And with over 30,000 cherry trees planted across the mountain’s hillside – this is a place to experience a real spectacle.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is widely considered Japan’s most spectacular castle due to its size, beauty, and complex grounds – and we can’t help but agree. Here, the pastel pinks of the cherry blossom stand out beautifully against the white castle walls.

We’ll take you wandering beneath the blossoms while you explore labyrinthine walkways or strolling along the castle’s very own cherry blossom lawn – it’s up to you.

Mount Fuji Japan
Cherry Blossom Festival Japan

Our favorite way to experience the cherry blossom

Over the years we’ve learnt and perfected our craft – a bit like ninjas (but with less sword fighting involved) – of creating the most unforgettable tailor-made luxury travel experiences. And after exploring this country from top to bottom, as part of your trip to see the cherry blossom in Japan, we’d recommend the following.

First things first, doing anything in Japan during cherry blossom season is recommended. However, the beautiful kabuki performance of Miyako Odori in Kyoto’s newly renovated Minamiza (one of the birthplaces of Japan’s traditional kabuki style of theatre) is an experience not to be missed.

The dance itself, first performed in 1872, unfolds across eight gorgeous scenes, with the stunning finale set among cherry blossoms in full bloom at the city’s Daikakuji Temple. This experience runs throughout April and is a perfect cultural introduction to the meaning of sakura and the art of hanami. You can also polish off this slice of traditional Japan with a private geisha-led tea service in Kyoto’s most authentic tea houses.


Whenever the time of year or the experience you’re looking for, our trips to Japan cover everything mentioned here and much more.