Enjoying Cherry Blossoms in Japan — A Bucket List Recommendation from a Global Gal

Spring is officially on its way—in much of the world flowers are budding, grass is springing up from the ground, and migrating birds are returning from their winter roosts. And with spring, comes cherry blossom season. In countries like Japan, China, and South Korea, cherry blossoms have inspired art, poetry, and traditions for centuries. In all three countries you’ll find annual Cherry Blossom Festivals and parks and gardens with landscaping designed to facilitate widespread enjoyment of cherry blossoms during their short season.

In particular, the seasonal blooming of cherry trees is a celebrated event in Japan where the tradition of hanami is said to have started sometime during the Nara period (710-794 AD). Hanami, or “flower viewing,” may have begun when aristocrats of the Nara period would spend time enjoying the plum blossoms at the start of spring, but overtime the act of hanami became more closely associated with cherry blossoms, or sakura.


Now, every year in Japan, hundreds of thousands of people head to parks and special gardens to enjoy the brief 10- to 14-day period when the cherry blossoms bloom. People get together with their friends, family, or co-workers to stroll through the park, or sit out on a blanket under the trees, taking the time to enjoy the sights and scents of the flowers while sharing drinks and snacks. Cherry blossom viewing is an activity; it’s a celebration, and the entire country seems to join in. Even more, at stores you’ll find foods made with cherry blossoms, sakura flavored chocolates, or drinks inspired by the season. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising since Japanese tend to embrace, celebrate, and pay attention to the changing seasons—so much so that their food oftentimes reflects the seasonal changes with a degree of artistry that we rarely find here in the U.S.


                                      sakura mochi

Growing up, I have always enjoyed the burst of color and the fragrance that spring flowers bring. However, after spending a year in Japan, and then later living in South Korea where they also celebrate the annual blooms with as much enthusiasm, I find I have a heightened appreciation of these flowers. Enjoying hanami with my friends—Japanese, Korean, and fellow foreigners—taught me to hit “pause” and really take a moment to deliberately soak up the natural beauty of the season. It’s literally a chance to stop and “smell the flowers,” to enjoy tasty snacks and refreshing beverages (don’t be surprised to see people lounging under the trees with ice cold beer), and to essentially welcome the coming spring. It’s an activity that you can find people enjoying during the day and at night—in fact many parks are lit at night (for “yozakura,” the term for hanami at night) with lanterns or colored lights that put the sakura on display long after the sun has set.

                                  sakura mochi


Additionally, timing is important when it comes to hanami—go too early and you’ll see very few flowers, go too late and you’ll be walking among fallen petals—though that has a beauty all its own if you ask me! Because of this, people in Japan will often carefully keep track of the state of the blooms and try to time their visit so that they see the trees at mankai or “full bloom.” If you want to plan a trip to Japan during this short season, make sure you look up the “cherry blossom forecast.” Use this site to help you plan when you need to visit, where you should go, and how to enjoy hanami in Japan.


The cherry trees, with their contrast of dark bark and pale pink blossoms, are a sight to behold at just about every stage of blooming. Yet when combined with the traditional Japanese structures of temples, tea houses, palaces and castles, I find the cherry trees’ natural beauty enhanced to include great romance and whimsy. If you’ve thought about visiting Japan, and you enjoy being outdoors or participating in local traditions, visiting Japan during cherry blossom season is a must!

As one of the most popular times to visit Japan (one of the other most popular times being autumn when the leaves change color), it is important to do all of your planning ahead of time to make sure you can get a competitive price on plane tickets and book lodgings. In fact, in 2015, a whopping 19.73 million overseas tourists visited some of Japan’s most popular sakura hotspots! Of course, having enjoyed the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka myself, I can understand the draw! With more than 100 types of cherry trees in their parks and gardens, and a rich history surrounding the festivities, Japan’s cherry blossom season is truly something you have to experience first-hand.

                  Kumamoto Castle, Japan

All of that being said, if you’re looking for alternative locations where you can enjoy other cherry blossom festivities, you have some great options! If you still want to travel overseas, South Korea and China both have large cherry blossom festivals or parks that are dedicated to cherry blossom viewing. While living in Seoul, South Korea, I was able to enjoy hanami at Yeouido Park where they have areas to enjoy the flowers during the day, and a street lined with cherry trees that are lit with colored lights at night—turning the flowers blue, green, gold and red. And if you’d like to go somewhere closer, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, Canada, and a number of other cities in the U.S. are great alternatives that still give you the chance to celebrate the coming of spring in your own way.


                                                             Wild cherry trees in Yoshino, Japan


Written by “Go-To Global Gal” Alyce