Visiting Japan to catch the beauty of the Sakura blooms for the first time? Hanami, literally translated as the 'flower viewing' season, typically happens in late March to early April and is Japan at its most picturesque, with vibrant bursts of pink and white colours throughout the city parks and countryside, creating picture-perfect moments as these small flower petals dance in the breeze.
Hanami season has become an integral part of Japanese culture. Here are the essential things you need to know about cherry blossom season in Japan.
How to hanami?
Hanami party essentials if you want to sit down at the parks under the trees and do like the locals do:
Bring hanami friends
Once you've checked the weather forecast, set a date, choose a park or riverside area and invite everyone you know! Bringing like-minded friends is most important for a fun time and for taking turns to reserve spots! If you're flying solo and still want the Hanami experience, either make some new friends on the fly (look for fellow travellers or friendly folk with some space to spare!) and share their mat, or just walk around instead and explore the various hanami spots instead of getting stuck in just one location.
Grab the best location early
Identify the exact spot and get there early to reserve it – all you need is a tarp or picnic sheet to physically reserve your space, if not to keep your bottoms dry if up against the elements. An additional jacket can be handy because sitting down without moving for awhile in prime Hanami weather can get chilly. Of course, not all places allow picnics and parties, so check first and also remember to clean up after yourself at the end of your party
Food and drink
Stock up on everything you'll need: bento, snacks, and beer or sake. Get your own supplies but it is also good etiquette to bring something to share, if not agreed in advance. Don't necessarily rely on the closest conbini to your hanami hotspot – they'll be busier and maybe pricier than usual. Thenagain, knowing your nearest (for waste disposal and toilet facilities) is good planning none the less (and it always considered proper etiquette to take your own trash with you).
Many companies release seasonal sakura-themed editions of the typical hanami fare which always prove popular – allowing you to grab a Sakura bento and pink-edition Asahi Super Dry to go all in. Or get into the spirit and make sure you try some of the limited edition seasonal snacks that you can buy as soon as the first cherry blossom starts blooming! More...
Tips for Travelling During Cherry Blossom Season
Plan for a longer stay if possible
Sakura blooming is a tenuous business - it happens at different times each year depending on a multitude of factors like the weather and which part of the country you are in. If they are an essential reason you want to visit Japan in the first place, try and stay in Japan for a longer period so there is better chance of your stay overlapping with the full blossoming period. Typically once a few trees start blooming, it takes around 3-4 days for everything to be in full bloom. Always check the cherry blossom forecasts to be certain, especially with the unpredictable weather.
There is no avoiding the crowds
Locals and tourists alike are willing to queue for their chance at Hanami as it only happens once a year, so expect any Hanami spot you visit to be packed with people. The crowds start to grow once a few trees are in bloom - it is slightly ridiculous how everyone crowds around to photograph that one blooming tree - but once full bloom hits, that number goes up exponentially, especially on the weekend. The most crowded spots I came across include Yoyogi Park near Shibuya, Ueno Park, as well as the Imperial Palace Gardens in Chiyoda.
My favourite less-crowded spot that I found was in a rather unusual location - Yanaka Cemetery. It may seem an odd choice for Hanami, but there is an avenue lined with cherry blossoms that is absolutely beautiful. Obviously, there is no picnicking or revelry since it is a cemetery, so you can admire the blooms in quiet and without too much jostling.
Happy Hanami, and don't worry if you missed it this year, there's always another year of new blooms to look forward to!