The cherry blossom or sakura festivals are one of the biggest and widely spread celebrations in the Japanese cultural calendar, making in one of the best times to visit the country. From late March to early May, cherry trees all across the country burst into bloom and sakura festivals are celebrated with the blossom season, which travels from south to north, like a delicate pink breeze. Hanami or ‘cherry blossom viewing’ is a popular pastime during this season and people come from all over to watch the blossom cast a light pink haze over the country’s parks and gardens.
Yeadake, Okinawa: The first cherry blossom festival of the year is held on the small picturesque island of Okinawa, part of the Okinawa island chain, located near Taiwan. Mount Yeadake is the island’s second highest point and a great platform for hanami. Okinawa is also known as Japan’s orchid capital, so be sure to look out for these exotic flowers too.
Yoshino-yama, Nara: Mount Yoshino has been one of Japan’s most famous hanami spots for centuries. From early to mid April the whole mountain becomes awash with hues of pink, as over 30,000 cherry trees come into bloom. Look out for the special Shiroyamazacra or white blossom cherry trees, which are particularly abundant in this area.
Matsuyama, Ehime: The well known romantic looking Matsuyama Castle is the setting for the Matsuyama Shiroyama Koen Cherry Blossom Festival, making it a beautiful spot for sakura. Come at night to see the whole area will be lit up with paper lanterns. Early April.
Ueno Park, Tokyo: If you’re in Tokyo for cherry blossom season, one of the most popular spots for the sakura festival is Ueno Park. It’s very crowded, but atmospheric, with more than 1,200 cherry trees lining the walkway from the National Museum to the zoo. It’s especially beautiful at night too when the whole park is lit up by lanterns.
Tsuyama, Okayama: The Tsuyama Kakuzan Koen Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Tsuyama city, where over 500 sakura trees decorate a magnificent old castle. Japanese tea ceremonies and traditional music performers complete the picture. Early to mid April.
Kitakami, Iwate: Over 10,000 cherry trees cover a 2km area at the Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival, which also features boat trips and horse and carriage rides. Walk along the promenade next to the river, decorated with lanterns and fluttering koinobori, carp fish streamers, to get some the best views. Mid April to early May.
Hirosaki, Aomori: Hirosaki Castle is one of the top spots in the Aomori region to celebrate the Cherry Blossom Festival. With over 2,600 cherry trees and more than 80 different species, the picturesque castle is framed by a magical pink and white mist. Late April to early May
Washington DC,USA: If you can’t make it to Japan, the next best place is the National Cherry Blossom Festival held in Washington DC’s National Mall and Memorial Parks. The festival commemorates the gift of Japanese cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city in March 1912 and this year will be the centenary celebration. March 20 to April 27.
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