Is Japan on your list for destinations for vacations yet? I worked in Japan on three separate occasions. The first time I stayed in a hotel. It was nice but it was limiting when you are staying for months at a time. I remember when I ordered pizza to be delivered to the hotel and the hotel told the driver to go away. I guess I wasn’t supposed to have pizza delivered because it was a nice hotel.
The next two times, I had an apartment which had a kitchen, living room, dining room, etc. Madeline was able to live with me on those two occasions so that was much better. We both loved being in Japan and soaking up the culture. What we thought was very interesting was the cherry blossom season. It’s something that is celebrated all over Japan – not just in Tokyo.
Sakura in Tokyo was always a special time to be in the city. Spring in Japan is known as sakura, or Japanese cherry blossom season. While flowers and nature are enjoyed year-round, most say that Japan is at its best during the Spring season when all the usual parks and temples are enhanced with thousands of Japanese cherry blossom petals in the background.
Madeline took this photo at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which is near the financial center of Tokyo. You can see people just sitting beneath the petals so they can gaze up and see the beauty.
In the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, they do not allow alcohol on the grounds so it is a much quieter spot to feel connected to sakura.
The cherry blossoms bloom is brief, and the Japanese simply love this time of year. I remember visiting parks and waterways on the weekend or even before or after work. The Japanese cherish this time, and some will stay in a park long past dark on a blanket, drinking sake.
For a brief window each spring, Japan’s parks, gardens, and canal-sides blush with fleeting blooms of pink and white. The above picture is along the Meguro river. The falling petals are signaling the coming of longer, warmer days and beckoning people outside to shake off the winter doldrums. Spring has sprung!
There are so many colors to see. The above photos show the vibrant green, white and pink blossoms in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Everywhere you look, there is color and beauty.
Sakura is very significant to the Japanese culture. In addition to the beauty of its pale pink petals and its prevalence in Japan, the blossom is known for its distinctively short lifespan.
This picture was taken at the Nakameguro Canal which is a very popular sakura spot in Tokyo.
Once the sakura tree begins to flower, its delicate blooms will last only for a week or two before the “sakura snow” falls to the ground or is carried off by the breeze. In the photo above, the petals landed in a pond within a sculpture garden.
Above you can see the petals in the air after a gust of wind blew some of the petals through the air.
Because of this fleeting phenomenon, the flowers have come to represent the relative shortness of one’s life. Life needs to be appreciated regularly. Everyone admires cherry blossoms when they are still beautiful and in bloom with all their petals. They bloom and fade in record time before the eyes of those who contemplate them. With an average duration of two weeks, their time on earth is fleeting, much like the person who admires them.
This is where the Japanese concept of hanami comes in. Hanami is an activity that encourages introspection. In this sense, hanami reminds us that life is short and that we must make the most of it. The season of cherry blossoms also marks the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of the next. It invites each of us to take the time to think about our future desires and projects. Hanami means “flower viewing.” Some hanami events take place at night, with lanterns illuminating the trees. Park lawns large and small become a patchwork quilt of picnic blankets and tarps, as families, friends, and coworkers convene with bento boxes and beer, sake, and sweets.
This picture was taken at Ueno Park where things can get a bit more boisterous. Ueno Park in Tokyo has over 1,000 beautiful sakura trees. When we would visit on a weekend, we might see people still sleeping off their nighttime celebration on a tarp.
Ueno Park has “night hanami”, known as yozakura, is also held. ‘Yo’ means night and ‘zakura’ is the same as ‘sakura’ – meaning cherry blossom. Paper lanterns are hung under the trees to light up the blossoms at night, creating a wonderful effect.
So, if you want a more sedate celebration, you should consider Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden or Nakameguro or Meguro. If you want to party like a local Ueno or Yoyogi Park might be where you want to hang.
Today the cherry blossom remains a moment of introspection turned towards the future. The blossoms announce the start of the new school year and the coming spring and are a symbol of renewal and future happiness.
Hanami’s century-old roots reach deeply into Japanese history where the custom can be traced back to the Nara period. The practice of flower viewing was inspired by the Chinese Tang Dynasty. Chinese viewed the ume with special reverence. Ume, a plant species related to both the plum and the apricot blooms between January to the end of February unlike the short period of Sakura.
Perhaps the root of the interest in sakura is within Buddhism. The frailty and lifespan of the sakura is short, similar to the nature of life. Samurai admired it since their lives could be cut short at any moment, much like the sakura.
It is depicted in nearly every object in Japanese life, from kimonos to the arts for its innate beauty.
On Japan’s southern islands of Okinawa, cherry blossoms open as early as January, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, the flowering can be as late as May. In most major cities in between, such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place in late March or early April.
Of course, you don’t have to stay in Tokyo to appreciate sakura. Here is a shot of Mount Fuji in the distance near Hakone, Japan.
Sakura was blooming in Fukuoka, Japan when we visited. Madeline is respectfully wearing pink.
This is a photo of sakura in Osaka, Japan with Madeline in her sakura t-shirt. She dressed for the occasion.
Kobe, Japan had blooming sakura as well.
Here is a picture of us in Kanazawa. Sakura were in full bloom everywhere we went.
The blooming time of cherry trees differs from year to year depending on the weather. If the weather during the months and weeks preceding the cherry blossom season is mild, blossoms will open early. If it is cold, blossoms will open later. From year to year, the start of the blooming season can vary by as much as two weeks.
Diet coke was repackaged in pink in Kyoto when we visited.
For us, the beauty of sakura is all over Japan at this time. The people have embraced the time concept and you’ll see that the merchants are in the spirit. We’ve seen sakura tea, umbrellas, purses, soft drinks, shoes, dresses, cakes, hamburgers, kimonos, earrings, necklaces, etc.
Coca Cola products were available in red and pink in Kyoto.
There is not much that won’t be affected by sakura. The people are happy and inspired by the coming of spring and the beauty of the cherry blossoms.
We wanted to make the most of it, so we wanted to see sakura in Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Kanazawa, Fukuoka, and Tokyo from our base in Osaka. That necessitated a JR Pass. We have a post on the JR Pass which you’ll want to know more about.
Japan’s cherry blossom season usually runs from late March to mid-April on the main island of Honshu which is where you would arrive if you land at Narita or Haneda (Tokyo) or Kansai (Osaka). The season can begin earlier or later if you’re in the far south or north of the country, but for the major sightseeing cities of Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka, late March to mid-April is the usual cherry blossom season.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict exactly when the cherry blossoms will appear each year, and so timing a trip to coincide with their appearance is tricky.
Here are a couple of links I used to verify the timing of our travel. We did need to purchase our air and hotel early, so it was a bit of a guessing game even using the links.
It’s also important to remember that the cherry blossoms are a huge tourist draw for the Japanese themselves. In our hotel in Osaka, there were large groups arriving and leaving regularly so we needed to secure our reservations in advance of the season. Don’t leave this to the last minute.
If all the stars align and you get to see the cherry blossoms, it’s truly magical. Ideally, you should try to spend at least 10 days in Japan so you can take advantage of the Japan Rail Pass and visit various areas in Japan since the blooms will be different based on the location of the cities. We chose Osaka as our base, but you could easily choose Kyoto, Fukuoka, Tokyo, Kanazawa, Hakone or Yokohama as your base city.
If you have a chance to visit Japan, you might want to consider coming during the time of sakura. It will be more crowded than other times, but you might get into the reverential spirit of the Japanese and simply enjoy it.
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