Japan’s world-famous cherry blossoms or “sakura” are an annual highlight for tourists and locals alike. The blossoms mark the start of spring and a chance to enjoy the warmer weather and experience a central part of Japanese culture.
Each year, the start of sakura season varies depending on the weather and location. In 2018, the blossoms in Tokyo are forecast to start on March 24 and the best viewing period to run from March 31 to April 8, 2018. The window is short to enjoy the full bloom. Keep in mind of the different types of sakura and some bloom earlier than others.
With a city as big as Tokyo, there are plenty of locations to enjoy the sakura. We’ve created this guide to show you the most popular spots, my favourite locations, and tips to make the most out of your time during this gorgeous season.
Don’t forget to check out our sakura guide for Tokyo Disney Resort, too.
Table of Contents
How to Enjoy Sakura
The definitive activity to enjoy the cherry blossoms is “hanami,” which translates to “flower viewing.” It’s a social activity where you’re outside all day eating and drinking with family and friends under the falling sakura petals. You’ll see blue tarps on the ground that are filled to the brim with groups of people, food, and drink.
If you plan on partaking in your own hanami party, the best advice is to claim your spot early. The popular areas (see section below) are quite busy and prime spots are claimed early in the morning. To put it in perspective, I had a friend once claim a spot at 5:00 AM in Yoyogi Park.
Bring a large tarp (100 yen shops are best to get these for cheap) and enough food and drink to last you for hours. If you plan on drinking, have plenty of water with you and pace yourself. Think of it as a marathon and not a sprint. I recommend buying your food from the convenience or grocery stores that are not in and around where you’re having your hanami party.
If you don’t plan on having a little hanami party, walking through the area is also an enjoyable way to soak in the beauty. As mentioned before, do this earlier in the day to avoid the large crowds.
One thing I’ll emphasize is, as tempting as it is, don’t touch the sakura branches. This is incredibly rude and inconsiderate. Look, but don’t touch.
Most Popular Spots
These are the most well-known spots in and around Tokyo. This translates into large crowds during peak blooming, even on weekdays. If you plan to have a hanami party, you’re best snagging a spot in the early hours of the morning.
My personal preference is to visit these places once in the early morning to avoid crowds, then head to a lesser-known (or less crowded) area afterward.
With over 1,000 cherry trees along its central pathway, Ueno Park is a very popular site for sakura viewing, especially as the trees usually blossom a few days earlier than other spots in Tokyo.
As well as a beautiful public space, Ueno Park hosts the Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Western Art, Ueno Zoo, and the Kaneiji Temple. This makes Ueno a great area to spend a day, no matter what time of year you visit.
- Closest Station: Ueno Station
Shinjuku Gyoen’s 1,000 trees include early and late-blooming varieties, making it perfect for visitors in mid-April to see trees in flower after the main season has finished.
Shinjuku Gyoen hosts three immaculately maintained gardens: the Japanese landscape garden, a traditional French garden, and the English landscape garden, where the cherry trees bloom.
The gardens are near the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (10-15 minute walk), which offers great panoramic views of Tokyo from its observation floor. Entry is free.
- Closest Station: Shinjuku Station
Sumida Park is on both the east and west banks of the Sumida River. Here you can take in the blossoms by walking the paths or taking a trip in a boat.
Three of Tokyo’s iconic sites, the Asakusa Shrine, Sensō-ji Temple and Hōzōmon Gate are a short walk from the park on the west side of the river, while Tokyo Skytree is accessible from the east side.
- Closest Station(s):
- Asakusa Station (West Bank)
- Tokyo Skytree Station (East Bank)
The Chidorigafuchi moat in Kitanomaru Park is the perfect spot to rent a boat and paddle along the water while surrounded by flowering cherry trees.
Chidorigafuchi is close to the Imperial Palace, the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. The Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public and feature traditional Japanese gardens and the foundations of the old Edo Castle.
Tokyo Station is also nearby, with many dining options, and you can also find Character Street, featuring many anime and pop culture shops, including Pokémon, Hello Kitty, and Studio Ghibli stores. On the other side of the station is where you’ll also find the Pokémon Cafe.
- Closest Station: Tokyo Station
Yoyogi Park is one of Tokyo’s biggest parks and is a good spot for cherry blossoms if you’re in the area.
The Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo’s most famous shrines, is in the center of the park, and to the south is the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and will host handball events during the upcoming 2020 Olympics.
To the east of Yoyogi is Harajuku, which is famous for its quirky fashion, secondhand clothing stores, and food stands. Further south, you will find the world-famous Shibuya Crossing.
- Closest Station:
- You’re also able to reach the park by walking from Shibuya
Information from Japan Guide.
My Favourite Spots
My ideal spots are a bit out-of-the-way, but I think they are definitely worth visiting. These are the locations I frequent more than the popular spots listed above. Some of these spots are just as busy, too. There’s no escaping the crowds in many places.
If you’re visiting the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, then a short walk to Inokashira Park is worth it. It’s a well-known spot for locals in the area (Kichijoji) and tends to become quite crowded. It’s a smaller park and is easy to experience in an hour if you want to just walk through. Afterward, explore Kichijoji, as it has tons of shopping and eating options (I recommend Harmonia Quina for my favourite dish called Taco Rice).
- Closest Station: Kichijoji Station
Showa Kinen Park
Showa Kinen Park is one of my absolute favourite parks to visit in Tokyo. The only issue is it’s about 40 minutes from Shinjuku (Chuo Line) in Tachikawa. The park is massive and even when it’s busy, there’s tons of space inside the park to not feel cramped. Keep in mind that it costs ¥410 ($4 USD) for an adult to get into the park. There is a free part of the park just outside the gates with trees as well.
The easiest way to find the park is to head towards Ikea and follow the signs (you’ll see people walking to/from the park, too). While inside the park, I recommend checking out the bonsai tree exhibit.
- Closest Station: Tachikawa Station
Even further out from Showa Kinen Park is Mt. Takao (about an hour from Shinjuku). This is a popular hiking spot and day trip from Tokyo. You’ll see a multitude of sakura trees, and once you make it to the top, it makes for fantastic photo opportunities.
You can choose to hike the mountain (takes about 90 minutes for the one trail) or take the cable car or chair lift. It’s a gorgeous and easy hike, and I highly recommend it. After your hike, soak in the Keio Takaosan Onsen (public bath).
- Closest Station: Takaosanguchi Station
If you’re visiting any of these places above, you’ll likely be taking the Chuo Line to these stations. A popular place to visit is Nakano Broadway, which is a mall with some of best pop culture merchandise you’ll find in Tokyo (including Disney).
Here’s a list of simple tips to help you make the most out of your trip. The most important tip is always to keep an eye on the forecasts for the coming year.
Planning for peak bloom is quite tough (the weather is a huge factor), but if you’re in Japan long enough and are flexible with your schedule, you can rearrange things to make it work.
- Visit your areas of choice as early as possible to avoid crowds (they pick up just before lunch in most cases)
- Restaurants in the area are busy and garner long lines
- Bring your own food from either a convenience store (Family Mart, 7-Eleven, Lawson, etc) or grocery store (avoid any stores near the parks as they are busy and run out of food and drink sometimes)
- Don’t touch the sakura branches (this is frowned upon and you shouldn’t do it)
- Use Google Maps to find other sakura spots outside the popular areas (it’s indicated on the map if you zoom in)
- If you just want to enjoy sakura, there are plenty of small parks scattered around Tokyo and the surrounding areas that have little crowds (use the Google Maps trick above)
- In crowded areas the toilets have long lines, it’s best to walk a bit further to find another one
Other Locations in Japan
Sakura are found throughout most of Japan. If you’re visiting other areas of this beautiful country, you’ll want to know where to find the gorgeous cherry blossoms. Here’s a short list of guides for various locations in Japan:
For other areas in Japan, a simple Google search brings up plenty of information. Happy viewing!
Are you planning a trip to Japan soon? You won’t want to miss our practical tips for traveling to Japan (listen to the podcast, too), which is a must-read for anyone looking to visit! This guide was a collaboration between myself and Matt Jones.