Cherry Blossom in Japan

How to See Cherry Blossoms in Japan

If you’re thinking about a trip to experience cherry blossom season, Japan 2020 is going to be your next opportunity. Assuming the coming winter is neither freakishly hot nor miserably cold, the season will begin in mid-to-late March in southern Kyushu and Shikoku islands, slowly traveling northward and eastward across Japan until the first or second week of 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 2020 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—figuratively, I mean. They’re not in bloom yet!

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

It’s too early to say precisely when next year’s cherry blossom (Japan 2020) season will begin, but in an ordinary year, this is typically when cherry blossoms reach mankai, aka full bloom:

  • Late March: Tokyo, Kyushu and Shikoku
  • Early April: Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, Nagoya, Hiroshima, San’in
  • Mid-April: Kanazawa, Fuji Five Lakes, Japanese Alps, Sendai and southern Tohoku
  • Late April: Aomori and northern Tohoku; Hakodate and southern Hokkaido
  • Early May: Sapporo and the rest of Hokkaido

Additionally, whether during sakura season 2020 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.

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 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 2020 will take place a few months before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Tokyo is nonetheless high on many lists of would-be hanami goers in 2020. 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 2020 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 2020 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 2020 Japan Cherry Blossom Forecast

Planning to travel during the cherry blossom festival Japan 2020? Great, but I encourage you to hold your horses a bit, if you can. The first forecast won’t be released until around February 1, 2020; none of the forecasts released before March 15 or so are reliably predictive. It’s ideal if you can wait until around this time to book—if you live in Asia or will already be traveling here at that time, this 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 2020 Cherry Blossom Season Be Early, Late or On-Time?

As Sakura 2020 draws closer, I’ll be updating this page with expert forecasts and my own analyses of them. When look 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. 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.
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The Bottom Line

If you want to experience the famous cherry blossoms, Japan 2020 is going to be your next opportunity. While it’s OK to purchase your plane tickets now (if you found a price you like on ANA or JAL, for instance), I’d recommend waiting until at least March of the year you plan to see the sakura to hammer down the details of your trip, if you can. Come back to this page often, as I’ll be updating it with essential facts and figures as the season 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!