Spring in Japan doesn’t start until the first cherry blossom blooms. This is the only time of year that the otherwise fast-moving society stops, simply to appreciate the candy-pink flowers. The season is also a special draw for travelers who want to witness Japan’s traditions, culture and daily life, in addition to the flowers.
This article suggests some steps for planning a cherry blossom trip to Japan in 2019.
Why Travel During the Cherry Blossom Season
Hanami (花見), literally ‘looking at the flowers’, dates back to the eighth century, when plum blossoms were celebrated. Plum trees blossom slightly earlier than cherry trees. Starting at the royal court in the ninth century, focus was switched to cherry blossoms. Taking part in a hanami means you get to witness this ancient tradition.
Among all flowers, cherry blossoms are most loved and praised for more than just their pink color and delightful fragrance.
These short-lived flowers, which only last for no more than a month, silently articulate Japanese philosophy: life of all forms is entitled to splendor, irrespective of its length and strength. For you, this might be a new way of viewing life.
What’s your impression of the Japanese people? Do they seem diligent, stubborn, overly-modest, hyper-intelligent, or ambiguous; or the other way around?
If you really want to understand this fascinating country and its people, what better chance than to have a picnic with all microcosms of the society: With hanami, everybody seems to let their hair down and indulge in a pink storm (if not pink hair), along with sake, beer and sakura-themed snacks.
What to Expect and How to Hanami Like a Local
Get a Feeling for the Timeline
In ancient times, the first bud used to be the harbinger of springtime. Nowadays, thanks to hi-tech, this ancient natural art-form that launched thousands of beautiful haiku (俳句, short forms of Japanese poetry) is fairly predictable.
There will be an official forecast of dates for the cherry blossom festival for almost every prefecture one month ahead or even earlier, supported by years of accumulated climate data.
The season will be around early March to late May, differing from place to place. Bear in mind that this is the peak of the peak time for traveling, which means you need to leave at least three months for planning and reservations.
Pick Your Own Spot
One astonishing fact is that Japan is home to almost all of over 600 different varieties of cherry tree. You can hanami practically anywhere at any time during the cherry blossom season. That being said, if you are no fan of big crowds or would love a more profound experience, location still matters.
Choice of location is also determined to some extent by your own travel time: if you are traveling during early March to April, Kanto (near Tokyo) will probably be your starting point, with a stop of 3 to 10 days around Mt. Fuji, followed by Kansai where the blooming time would come just a couple of weeks later.
Hokkaido would be ideal if you wish to beat the big waves of tourists from mid April to late May.
Here is a quick list of the hottest spots for hanami: Shinjuku Gyeon National Garden and Chidorigafuchi in Tokyo; Chureito Pagoda around Mt. Fuji; Himeji Castle at Mt. Yoshino in the Kansai area; Nijo Castle, Arashiyama, the Philosopher’s Path and Maruyama Park in Kyoto.
Asia Highlights, however, has a secret list of less-popular (read less-crowded) spots: see Less-Crowded Yet Still A Party: Top 10 Places for Cherry Blossom Viewing in Japan.
Get Help from a Local
Hanami is not simply about staring at the petals (beautiful as they are), it’s also about soaking up the atmosphere.
Having a local guide smoothes your way in, and introduces you to a variety of interesting anecdotes and traditions. That’s one of the many perks that cannot be acquired by traveling on your own or joining a big group.
How Asia Highlights Helps
Preparation gets you ahead. We have no control over the cherry trees, to make them bloom during your visit, but we excel at preparation and logistics.
At the end of every year, we collect feedback from our experienced travelers and inspection trips, along with information predicting the trends of the forthcoming year, such as great flower-viewing spots and events.
We do the groundwork. We have a list of hotels offering good value and great service at this special time of year. This provides us with room availability before the peak period arrives. Most of our regular tour guides have considerable experience and they know where best to locate your hanami picnic.
Expertise enhances your experience. While our local offices in Japan work on reservation of viewing spots, transportation and tour guides, our Japan experts back in China focus on designing itineraries that meet the needs of various types of traveler, family trip, honeymoon or leisure holiday.
Planning your cherry blossom holiday in Japan is facilitated by our one-to-one consulting service.
All-in package offers a good solution. You don’t need to worry about transportation, accommodation or activities with our one-stop solution. Time and trouble are saved from researching various train passes, attractions and accommodation at different locations.
Plan Your Cherry Blossom Trip with Asia Highlights
Even with all the ease and delight of planning with Asia Highlights, however, we still suggest you start planning at least six months ahead. To be safe not sorry, you might just start with a simple inquiry right now, if a trip to Japan during the cherry blossom festival is on your bucket list.