Cherry Blossom in Japan

How to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan

If you’re thinking about a trip to experience cherry blossom season, Japan 2021 is going to be your next opportunity. While the 2020 cherry blossom season has now begun in earnest, having begun on a record-breaking March 14 in Tokyo, most foreign travelers have been forbidden from entering Japan due to coronavirus. Regardless of when you come to Japan to see cherry blossoms, you should expect the so-called “cherry blossom front” to start moving from the south (Kyushu and Shikoku islands), northward and eastward across Japan until late April or early May, when the last sakura blossoms in Hokkaido will fall to the ground.

Sounds poetic doesn’t it? Well, if you’ve started to plan your cherry blossom trip yet, you’ve also seen the prosaic side to spring travel in Japan. From arranging your itinerary such that it follows the typical progression of the “cherry blossom front,” to securing accommodation far enough (but not too far!) in advance, to keeping tabs on weather in late February and early March, whose temperatures typically determine when sakura season will start, the devil is in the detail when it comes to seeing cherry blossoms.

Whether you’re seeking information specific to Japan cherry blossom season 2021 or want to get a more general idea of how to plan a hanami trip during the best time to visit Japan, you’re in the right place. Sakura starts here!

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When Does Japan’s Cherry Blossom Season Usually Take Place?

When is cherry blossom season in Japan? The most recent cherry blossom (Japan 2020) season began freakishly early, on March 14 in Tokyo, but in an ordinary year, this is typically when cherry blossoms reach mankai, aka full bloom:

Additionally, whether during sakura season 2021 or any other year, cherry blossoms briefly spring up in Okinawa in late January or early February, though these are a different species than the somei yoshino tree that blooms in much of the rest of Japan.

Coronavirus and the 2020 Cherry Blossoms

Before I get into the specifics of the coming 2021 cherry blossom season, I need to get into something less beautiful. That is the proliferation of COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, which arrived in Japan in January 2020 and, as of mid-March when the first blossoms in Tokyo opeened, has shown no signs of abatement. If you weren’t already in Japan as late March 2020, chances are you’re had to cancel your trip that year.

There were some exceptions to this rule, of course. If you had a passport from the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, but were already in Asia (ideally in Taiwan, where I was), you might have been able to take your trip as planned. This was both due to the fact that flights between Taiwan and Japan continued operating throughout the crisis, and because Taiwan’s status as a safe haven meant you’d neither be subject to quarantine upon arrival in Japan nor at risk of spreading the virus to vulnerable Japanese citizens. Click here to read more about the coronavirus and what it meant (or, if you’re reading in early 2020, means) for travel in Japan.

Top Cities in Japan for Cherry Blossoms

Kyoto

 

There is no travel experience in the world like the Kyoto cherry blossoms. (There’s also nowhere in the world quite as crowded as Kyoto in late March or early April, but that’s a topic for another post). Whether walking down the Philosopher’s Path to Higashiyama sakura spots like Maruyama Park and Kiyomizu-dera, or enjoying hanami at Arashiyama‘s Tenryu-ji before walking through mysterious Sagano Bamboo Grove, Kyoto during cherry blossom season more than lives up to the hype. Just wake up early if you can to enjoy the beauty in relative solitude!

Tokyo

 

Although Japan cherry blossom 2021 is taking place a few months before the re-scheduled Tokyo 2021 Olympics (assuming they take place at all, Tokyo is nonetheless high on many lists of would-be hanami goers in 2021. This is not a surprise, at least not to me. In spite of being one of the most urbanized cities in the world, Tokyo is one of the very best places in Japan to see cherry blossoms. From popular spots like Chidorigafuchi moat and the shores of the Sumida River in Asakusa, to green spaces like Ueno Park and Koishikawa Koraku-en, Tokyo is chock full of cherry blossoms.

Osaka

 

Many people are under the impression that the only place to see Osaka cherry blossoms is Osaka Castle, but this is false. To be sure, I actually prefer seeing sakura in Osaka at other spots in the city. Sakuranomiya Park, for example, sits up the Okawa River from the castle, and is actually a perfect vantage point from which to look southward toward it. I also love walking through temple-filled Shitaderamachi when cherry blossoms are at full bloom in Osaka, whether at mainstream attractions like Shitenno-ji or more obscure ones.

Kamakura

 

One thing I don’t like about some cherry blossom Japan 2021 forecast models (and indeed, those for any given year) is that they skip seemingly secondary sakura destinations. One example of this is Kamakura, which sits close enough to Tokyo to be a suburb, but is very much its own destination—it actually used to be the capital of Japan! My favorite spots to see cherry blossoms in Kamakura are a series of temples just north of the city center (Engaku-ji and Meigetsu-in, which are both accessible via Kita-Kamakura Station), though I’m also a sucker for sakura at Kotoku-in, aka the Big Buddha.

Himeji

 

There are few more iconic sakura photos that you can take than cherry blossoms at Himeji Castle—I know this personally. In fact, I was so intent on getting my so-called “Himeji money shot” that I actually returned on two separate days in 2019, since the blossoms hadn’t quite peaked the first time I went. For cities like Himeji, where only one spot really sees the bulk of cherry blossom beauty, dedication is everything. If you travel to Himeji to see cherry blossoms, you could also stop in Kobe on the way back to Osaka (assuming this is where you’re coming from).

Other Top Cherry Blossom Destinations in Japan

Whether for sakura Japan 2021 or another year, here are some other places that are absolutely wonderful to visit during cherry blossom season:

  • Matsuyama Castle, Ehime prefecture
  • Kotohira-gu, Kagawa prefecture
  • Yoshino Mountain, Nara prefecture
  • Urui River, Shizuoka prefecture
  • Fuji Five Lakes, Yamanashi prefecture
  • Hanamiyama Park, Fukushima prefecture
  • Hirosaki Castle, Aomori prefecture

These, of course, are only the beginning—there are so many amazing places to see cherry blossoms in Japan you’d need a lifetime to enjoy them. I’ve personally taken nearly a dozen separate sakura trips at this point and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface!

The 2021 Japan Cherry Blossom Forecast

Planning to travel during the cherry blossom festival Japan 2021? I encourage you to hold your horses. The first forecast won’t be released until February 2021, and will be liable to change depending on the weather in the subsequent weeks; none of the forecasts released before about March 30 of a given year are reliably predictive for most of the country. It’s ideal if you can wait until around this time to book—if you live in Asia or will already be traveling in Japan at that time, fluctuations in the arrival of Japan cherry blossom 2021 shouldn’t be a problem.

If, on the other hand, you’re coming from the US or Europe and want to book your flights, at least, my recommendation would be to stay as long as possible. For example, if you can afford to spend a month in Japan, being in the country for all of April will guarantee you lots of cherry blossom action, even if I’d still suggest you wait until as late as possible to begin hammering down the details of your Japan cherry blossom itinerary.

Will Japan’s 2021 Cherry Blossom Season Be Early, Late or On-Time?

Once the Sakura 2021 season begins in earnest, I’ll be updating this page with expert forecasts and my own analyses of them. When looking at cherry blossom forecasts, these are the factors I’ll be considering as I make my assessments:

  • Temperature: Generally speaking, the first cherry trees in a given city or location have their first bloom shortly after the last hard freeze of the season. Full bloom (mankai) can occur anywhere from a few days after this to a couple weeks. How soon mankai arrives and how long it lasts also varies depending upon how warm or cold it is.
  • Precipitation: Even if temperatures are relatively mild, heavy rain can delay the arrival of the first bloom and especially full bloom during the Japan cherry blossom season. Additionally, if rainy or windy conditions arise as the blossoms approach mankai or after it has been reached, this can drastically shorten the amount of time available to enjoy hanami.
  • Specific sakura spots: Although there is an official date when a city or region sees its first bloom and full bloom, there is variance (often significant) between different sakura spots within one region. For example, the weeping shiderazakura in Kyoto’s Maruyama Park blooms before the Philosopher’s Path, which in turn blooms before Kiyomizu-dera.
  • Past performance: Regardless of temperature, precipitation and when the season starts, the progression of the sakura in the past can provide clues about what will happen this year. While it usually takes cherry blossoms in Kyoto a full week to reach mankai after they initially bloom, I’ve noticed Kanazawa’s progress much faster, often in only a few days.

In mid-January 2020, an article came come out that vaguely stated cherry blossom season Japan 2020 would be early, and stated that the sakura season 2020 peak will occur about one week earlier than normal—March 27 in Tokyo, for example. In fact, this played out in reality, although it was a moot point: Many travelers canceled plans for Japan cherry blossom 2020, on account of coronavirus.

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The Bottom Line

If you want to experience the famous cherry blossoms, Japan 2020 was a missed opportunity, thanks to coronavirus. While it’s OK to purchase your plane tickets for sakura 2021 ASAP (if you found a price you like on ANA or JAL, for instance), I’d recommend waiting until next February or March to hammer down the details of your cherry blossom season Japan trip, if you can. Come back to this page often, as I’ll be updating it with essential facts and figures as the current season progresses, and the next one draws nearer. Also remember that you don’t have to sweat the details of cherry blossom season alone. Click here to learn more about my custom Japan itinerary planning service!