The pink cherry blossom of Japan is possibly one of the most iconic images of Asia. With blossoming flowers bursting from the trees, Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates and welcomes in the spring.
Known locally as Hanami, the Cherry Blossom Festival is a part of Japan’s sacred heritage. We visited Japan in the early spring months of March and April and caught more than just a glimpse of the vibrant pink flowers. To be able to visit Japan during times of such celebration is a real privilege and we would recommend Japan for a spring holiday or getaway to anyone!
During the festival people gather beneath the cherry blossom trees to celebrate the fluidity and impermanence of nature’s beauty. “Hanami” literally translates as ‘viewing flowers’ but colloquially is used to refer to the observation of cherry blossoms, particularly during the blossoming festival season. Families and friends gather beneath the blossom to picnic, sing and talk and celebrate arguably Mother Nature’s finest display in Japan.
When is it?
The Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan is celebrated during the spring months, whenever the trees are in bloom. This is typically throughout March and April but in some locations the flowers bloom long into May.
The first blossoms usually appear in the southern islands of Okinawa in early March. Blossoms in the country’s major cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto arrive a little later, in mid-April.
In light of this, there is no need to make strict travel plans when planning your visit to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan. If you decided to visit any time from late March to early May you will be sure to catch a glimpse of the famous pink cherry blossoms.
How to get to the Cherry Blossom Festival?
If you choose to celebrate the Cherry Blossom Festival in Tokyo, transport around the city is very easy and there are a number of spacious parks lined with cherry blossom trees for you to explore.
Tokyo is generally the cheapest of the international airports to fly into and is a great central location from which to explore the rest of the country from.
When you arrive at Tokyo Narita International Airport you can either get a private taxi to the city centre or jump on the Japan Rail Narita Express that will deliver you to the centre of Tokyo in under an hour.
If you’re in the country earlier in the year, head to Okinawa. This is an island in the deep south of Japan, which sees the Cherry Blossom Festival arrive in early March due to its warmer climate. Although the white sandy beaches and clear blue sea water is the traditional tourist draw to Okinawa, timing your visit during the festival would be the icing on the cake! It’s easiest to get to the Okinawa Islands by plane from Toyko and Osaka — flights will cost less than $100.
Osaka is another popular place to celebrate the Cherry Blossom Festival and you can get to Osaka from Tokyo on the famous Bullet Train in under 3.5 hours! Cherry blossoms come into bloom in Osaka in mid April, so if you want to maximise your flower sighting time, you could visit Osaka after visiting Okinawa. This would require a short domestic flight costing no more than $100, and is a great way to see as much of Japan as possible.
Like in Tokyo, the parks in Osaka are full of cherry blossom trees and are easy to locate on a free city map from your hotel.
Where to stay?
As the Cherry Blossom Festival is popular the world over, accommodation in the major cities gets booked up far in advance. Booking your hotel or guest house before you arrive in Japan is highly recommended.
Japan is famous for its futuristic Pod Hotels. Throughout Tokyo and Osaka there are a range of Pod Hotels available, which are perfect for the minimalistic traveller. Although not ideal for long-term stays a night at a Pod Hotel is a novelty and something to tick off the bucket list.
There are also hundreds of thousands of family-run guesthouses and B&Bs in Japan. Check out Airbnb Japan for some really unique and quirky rooms and apartments, some that even boast views of the Cherry Trees in bloom! What could be better, or more convenient, than waking up each morning of your stay to find the festival happening right outside your window?
By choosing to stay in family-run, independent accommodation you have the added benefit of local knowledge. Our hosts were only too happy to help us find the best parks and avenues for photographing the Cherry Blossom Festival and even invited us to some of their family celebrations which was truly humbling and memorable.
How much will it cost?
Japan is by no means the cheapest country in Asia to travel but if you’re savvy with your money your yen can go far. One great aspect of the Cherry Blossom Festival is that it’s free! Visiting parks and nature reserves where the trees are in bloom is free of charge for all and visitors are welcome to spend from sun up to sun down beneath the blooming trees.
The real cost comes in the form of accommodation, food and transport. Tokyo has hostels that start at $19 a night with five-star hotel rooms heading high into the hundreds for a one-night stay. As we mentioned above, a flight out to the Okinawa Islands from Tokyo or Osaka will cost around $100. The average meal out in Tokyo costs $9 and with luxurious seafood on offer, there’s no upper limit!
The Bullet Train from Tokyo to Osaka takes under four hours, costs just $124 one way, and is a great way to see the county, though it does flash before your eyes!
What to do at the festival?
With no set itinerary or events lineup you can chose to celebrate the Cherry Blossom Festival however you like, whenever you like; provided the blossom is in bloom there is cause for celebration.
According to historical scripture, blossom viewing was a serious and somber occasion. In these modern times the Japanese people have added fun as a key element to any Cherry Blossom festivities. The whole affair is more of a family picnic than a raucous party. Families and friends gather around the trunks of the somei-yoshino and sakura trees and share organic matcha green tea. Traditional tea ceremonies and classic performing arts shows appear on impromptu occasion and are incredibly interesting. The tea ceremonies are sacred and steeped in ritual and are a great way to understand Japanese culture.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is a great way to refine your photography skills, get snap-happy and practice your macro photography with some lovely close-up shots of the blossom.
A must-attend event!
Whether you head to Japan in early March or in late May you will find gorgeous pink Cherry Trees in bloom. From Tokyo to Osaka, from Okinawa to Kyoto there are a wide variety of parks and woodlands to explore. No nation in the world celebrates the opening acts of spring with such excitement and frivolity.