9 Tips for Viewing Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
Seeing Japan’s cherry blossoms or sakura in full bloom during spring is on many people’s travel wish lists. We were lucky enough last year to have a two-day stopover in Tokyo on our way to Guam to visit my family. Despite the jet lag, we made our way from Narita Airport straight to Tokyo’s most popular park for some cherry blossom viewing or hanami. It was an unforgettable experience.
We’ve visited Japan a few times during the summer, but cherry blossom season was simply magical. It’s no wonder many consider spring the most beautiful time to visit and we highly recommend it. If you’re lucky enough to visit, here are some tips to help with cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo.
Tokyo Cherry Blossom Season Tips
1. Tokyo Cherry Blossom Season Dates
Japan’s cherry blossom viewing season starts in lower elevations and moves to higher areas. The peak dates vary every year. Tokyo is usually in late March to early April. The flowers are delicate and full bloom only lasts 7 to 10 days.
Check the Japan Weather Association for approximate dates. They usually start forecasting in late January. Weather plays a big part, and these forecasts can change on a daily basis so check the site often. If you have more time, explore other cities to see more trees. Trees in northern Japan can bloom until late April.
2. Where to See Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
There are several places around Tokyo ideal for hanami and most of them are at parks. Plan your route if you’re planning to visit several locations. These are the top three places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo:
- Shinjuku Gyoen is considered by some as the “best sakura viewing spot” with over 1,500 cherry trees with different varieties. There us a 200 Yen charge to enter. It is huge so there are bound to be trees blooming in different stages.
- Meguro River, Naka Meguro is a great area for seeing the sakura at night. Look out for the annual Nakameguro Festival in early April. In this area, 800 cherry trees line the river for about 4 km, and there are also a great places for shopping nearby.
- Ueno Park is considered Tokyo’s most popular park and its cultural center. In this area, you’ll find a zoo, shrines, temples and museums. This was the park we visited and loved seeing all the cherry blossoms and the festivities. It was incredible to walk under the pink and white canopy of cherry blossoms. The park has over 1,000 trees in several varieties.
We liked Ueno Park because there were other things to do like visiting the temples, a zoo for the kids and even a small amusement park area. Despite the crowds, we found the park to be very clean. There were designated trash areas and containers were categorized in detail. Don’t miss the Bentendo Temple and the food vendors lining the pathways. There are also swan boats to rent on the river.
3. Go Hanami-ing
Hanamis are HUGE events during cherry blossom season. The Japanese have hanami parties under the blooming trees, and it is a large part of their culture. There are live events and performances in various hanami spots. It felt like we were in a giant block party watching the locals celebrate.
If you want to attend or have your own hanami party/picnic, go to the park very early to reserve your spot under the blossoming trees, especially during weekends. There are designated squares in some parks. Have someone stay with your supplies.
4. What to Bring to a Hanami
If you’re planning your own hanami, bring food, drinks, paper plates, disposable cups, utensils, and a picnic sheet, outdoor blanket or tarp to cover the ground. Go to 7-11 stores to buy supplies or Daiso or dollar stores. These are also great places to buy cheap souvenirs and snacks. We saw locals enjoying a variety of foods, from snacks to what looked like feasts. Some department stores sell hanami bento (food in compartmentalized boxes). Most of all, don’t forget your cameras!
5. Safeguard Your Belongings
While Tokyo is generally a safe country, you are dealing with huge crowds. We saw theft warning signs, so be cautious about your surroundings. Watch your valuables closely. Be a minimalist and bring only what you need.
6. Get Tokyo Cherry Blossom Souvenirs
While Tokyo is full of fun and unique souvenirs, look for cherry blossom specific souvenirs, particularly food types. Spring-themed sweets and treats are available in sweet shops around town and department store sweet sections. We loved the sakuramochi (cherry blossom rice cake) and the sakura-flavored Kit Kats.
7. See blossoms during day and night
We highly recommend going to see the cherry blossoms an hour or two before the sunset to also enjoy nighttime hanami (yazakura). We saw thousands of lanterns hung on the trees slowly light up in Ueno Park. It was enchanting.
8. Layer up
Bring jackets or blankets, especially if you’re staying into the night. It got quite cold the longer we stayed there.
9. On a layover?
If you’re in Narita International Airport for a long layover during the cherry blossom time period and can’t make it to Tokyo, don’t worry; you can still see some blooms. Narita City and the Narita Transit Program both offer free layover tours, depending on how much time you have. Allow enough time to go back to the airport and through immigration. There is luggage storage at the airport. It is also quite easy to get to nearby Naritasan Shinshoji Temple where we found some cherry blossoms by the Peace Pagoda.
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Mary lives in San Diego, California with her husband, 13 year-old daughter and 10 year-old son. She was born in the Philippines, grew up in the U.S. territory…