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Cherry blossom in Japan, a first timer’s guide

by Emma Dupont-Brown  from Australia

Cherry blossom in Japan by Emma Dupont-Brown

Since I was a young girl I had dreamt of seeing the magic of Japan’s cherry blossom season, also known as ‘sakura’ season.  To experience the delicate pink white haze lining the streets, as if the treetops are full of cotton candy. If you are heading to Japan to see this splendid sight, here are a few tips I picked up along the way from my experience last year.

Japan, Himeji Castle by Emma Dupont-Brown

Tip #1. Plan Ahead

Whilst the sakura are a worldwide tourist attraction, they draw just as much attention from the locals too. Many hotels book out months in advance, planning ahead is critical and they certainly price for the high demand. If you want premium location, then be prepared to pay a premium price. Kyoto is the hallmark location to appreciate the season, however my time in Hiroshima, Tokyo and Nara was just as beautiful.

If you’ve left it to the last minute to book Kyoto accommodation and it’s all booked out, don’t fret. It’s also possible to stay in Osaka and take the fast trains into Kyoto for day-trips to still enjoy ‘The Philosopher’s Walk’ and other famous sakura viewing sites, something I did a couple of times using my Rail Pass.

Japan, the-philosophers-walk-kyoto
Japan, The Philosopher’s Walk, Kyoto by Emma Dupont-Brown

Tip #2. Be Prepared for Crowds

Whilst the prospect of seeing a tree-lined street blossoming in immaculate pink may give you palpitations, be assured the locals will be just as excited. In the peak of the season, the streets will be absolutely swarming with crowds, some with iPhones, others with their telescopic lenses and cameras hanging from industrial photography vests. It’s almost as fascinating as the blooms themselves. My one tip, be prepared for crowds. Really big crowds. Be patient to get your ‘shot’ or better still plan your visits to time with the early hours of the day.

Japan, locals love cherry blossom as much as the tourists by Emma Dupont-Brown

Tip #3. Sakura Taste Sensations

As much as cherry blossom season is a visual delight, it can be a culinary one too. Scattered across the cities you will find all sorts of cherry blossom inspired taste sensations, be it cherry blossom ice-cream, rice crackers or teas….pink abounds! If you are fortunate enough to travel to a few cities, you’ll experience even more of the varying regional cuisines – my particular favourite was okonomikayi in Hiroshima, a grilled savoury noodle pancake cooked right before your eyes.

Japan, Hiroshima’s local delicacy okonomiyaki being cooked on the grill by Emma Dupont-Brown

Tip #4. Escape to the Mountains!

Appreciating the cherry blossom can sometimes be hard work in the narrow streets of Kyoto or Hiroshima with so many people around, so why not head further afield and witness magic in the mountains. Taking an express train from Osaka to Mount Yoshino can take only 1-1.5hours and transport you to a completely different landscape, with whole hillsides blushing in pink blossom. This is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city as well as an opportunity to stretch the legs on a scenic mountain hike. Although some of the routes are more of a casual stroll than an intense hike. Your choice!

Japan, Mount Yoshino in full bloom by Emma Dupont-Brown

Tip #5. Dress up! 

One of my favourite things about walking the streets in sakura season is how the local women don beautiful kimono for the season. It’s quite the thing. Stunning fabrics, beautifully styled hair, the women just look so elegant. They are also more than happy for you to take their photo, just ask nicely. You can even rent a kimono yourself and feel just as stylish for a day.

Japan, Kimono fashion in cherry blossom season by Emma Dupont-Brown

You may even spot a few couples having pre-wedding photo shoots.

Japan, wedding photo shot by Emma Dupont-Brown

Tip #6. Pack a Picnic

One of the local’s favourite ways to appreciate the season is to enjoy the blossoms in the many parks over a picnic. Whether it is by the riverside in the heart of Hiroshima or a spot nestled in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, you will see blankets laid out everywhere with large families and groups gathered enjoying a home-packed feast. Why not bring your own lunch and join in the fun sitting under the stunning blooms.

Japan, picnic delights at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo by Emma Dupont-Brown

Tip #7. Timing is Everything!

There truly is an element of chance and good luck when it comes to seeing the cherry blossom at their peak. The season lasts only a few weeks, typically starting late March through to mid April, however it is very weather dependent.

Japan, Sakura blooms in Hiroshima by Emma Dupont-Brown

The Japan National Tourism site is very helpful with updates along with other weather tracking sites. It is important to note, the season timings will vary between the north and south so it can pay to be somewhat flexible in your itinerary or at least try to cover both areas to maximize your chances of sightings. Either way, the sakura are a truly magical sight, one of nature’s true beauties and well worth making the effort and trip. Enjoy!

Japan, local women by Emma Dupont-Brown
Japan, Sakura blooms in Nara by Emma Dupont-Brown
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