Cherry Blossom Japan is a big thing. Like, a BIG thing. Ever since the 8th century, imperial courtiers would take time to admire the start of spring whilst having a picnic below the pink sakura. Nowadays, people pack the parks and open spaces to enjoy one of natures most captivating spectacles.
Why is it so popular?
This is not just about the opening of a few flowers and tress looking pretty. Like many things in Japanese culture, the celebration of the cherry blossoms is deep rooted in tradition and meaning. The blooming of new flowers after the winter represent new beginnings. A fresh start. They also coincide roughly with the 1st of April which is the start of the new financial year and also the new academic year in Japan. As a result, hanami parties are hugely popular with swathes of people setting up camp under the pink flowers to enjoy a picnic with family and work colleagues.
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When to go
As the sakura only last about a week, timing is everything. However, being reliant on nature, it can be a little bit tough to predict exactly when the cherry blossoms will appear. So much so that special sakura forecasters spend hour after hour trying to predict when the best time will be for different regions. They usually start in the south in late January, moving northwards as the weather warms. If you’re planning to catch it in Tokyo, late March to early April is your best bet.
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Where to see the cherry blossom
Tokyo is a wonderful city all year round and the hanami season is no different. With 1,500 tress, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a great place to start. Entry to the park is 200Y for adults which opens up 58 hectares of grass and water to explore. Most people seemed to gather around the northern end of the park so I’d suggest making your way to the southern section. Here, a number of ponds hold stunning reflections of the pinks and white from the tress above.
Another great place to take in the beauty of this season is in the Meguro River Park. Here, a narrow tree lined water way snakes its way though the park, creating more fantastic photo opportunities than you can shake a SD card at.
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Can’t make it to Japan?
With nearly half of Tokyo’s residents suffering from pollen related allergies, the traditional hanami events can be more than a little stressful. As a result, many offices are now having indoor hanami. Workers bring blankets and picnics to the office where live streams of the sakura are projected onto the walls. Why not host your own event at home by picking up some Japanese food from a shop, cracking open some Sapporos and watching this years cherry blossom on YouTube? Ok, it might not be the most authentic experience but at least you’ll see it!