Authored by Chan Komagan
Famous throughout the world, Japan’s cherry blossoms put on a spectacular show every spring with visitors coming from far and wide to view the incredible sight.
In Japan this season is called “Hanami” which literally translates to “viewing of cherry blossoms” (the flowers themselves are referred to as Sakura). Cherry blossoms play such a significant role in Japanese culture; they are fleeting, short-lived, and cherished for their ephemeral beauty.
The Hanami season begins in March and lasts until May, and whether you’re visiting busy cities like Tokyo or Osaka, or sourcing out hidden parks and temples, pink and white cherry trees will blanket the country from north to south!
But the cherry blossoms are fleeting, and most cities only offer a short window of 2-3 weeks. Tokyo’s cherry tress are predicted to start blooming from March 22 in 2020, with the best viewing from March 29 – April 6.
So, want to learn more about Hanami? We’ve updated our popular guide with dates for 2020, so you have all the info you need for planning a cherry blossoms trip to Japan, and extra fun facts about its significance to Japanese culture.
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How to Plan a Cherry Blossoms Trip to Japan: Updated for 2020
Here’s a Little History
The history of Hanami is centuries old – it’s an ancient custom that started during the Nara period (710 – 794), where people would gather every season because they believed Gods resided inside sakura trees.
Cherry blossom viewing developed a real prominence in Japan during the Heian period (8th – 12th century) when Emperor Saga held annual flower viewing parties. He had poems commissioned about these delicate sakura flowers, and this is believed to be the origin of Hanami in Japan.
By the 17th century (the Edo period), Sakura had extended beyond Aristocratic society, and emerged as a strong tradition among the common people. The flowers were (and still are), viewed as a metaphor for life itself, luminous and beautiful yet fleeting and ephemeral.
Tokugawa Yoshimune (ruler of Japan during the Edo period) planted Sakura trees all across the country to encourage Hanami, and it has been a season of significant cultural importance ever since.
Fun fact: All cherry blossom trees were planted using a technique called Tsugiki (Grafting). Most trees planted using this technique have identical DNA, which is why most Sakura in Japan blossom and fall around the same time.
Cherry blossoms have since become a national symbol of Japan, and are deeply interwoven in the cultural fabric of the country; you can even find cherry blossom themed games when chasing your casino bonus.
How do Locals Celebrate Hanami?
Just as Emporer Saga held the first flower viewing parties, where aristocrats would gather at the Imperial Palace, in modern-day Japan, once cherry blossoms start to appear the whole country comes together for a massive outdoor party.
Parks throughout the country quickly fill with locals, and groups gather with picnic blankets and baskets, to bathe in the pink atmosphere of the flowering cherry trees. And festivities continue well into the night.
Spring parties are common in Japan both during daytime, and night; Hanami at night is called yozakura, and in many places you’ll find paper lanterns hung from the trees with electric lights to illuminate the blossoms.
People are merry during Hanami, drinking sake, eating tempura and engaging in a lot of playful banter. This is a great sight to take in as a tourist, although it can often prove difficult to find a place to sit!!
While it may outwardly appear that Hanami is simply an excuse to come together with family and friends under the blossoms of pretty trees – for Japanese society Hanami is of deeper significance. It signifies the concept of impermanence and reminds us to appreciate the brief time we share together with loved ones.
Image credit: Yoshikazu TAKADA (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Cherry Blossoms Schedule in 2020
Every year the Japan Weather association publishes a schedule which outlines the blooming of Cherry trees in Japan.
Based on this information, tour company VELTRA CityDiscovery has put together the above forecast for where you can see cherry blossoms in Japan in 2020.
As you can see from the above graphic, you should plan your trip between mid March and mid April. Make your travel bookings well in advance as most companies sell out fast during this Spring season.
How Do You Plan a Trip?
If you are visiting Japan for the Cherry blossoms, my recommendation is to start your trip in the south. It’s more likely you will find a cheaper ticket to Tokyo than to other cities, and the south blooms come out first.
In visiting the South, you can make your way north through the country, and hit up different cities as the blossoms progressively start to bloom. If you’re not comfortable planning your own trip (check this post for a guide to the JR Rail Pass), you can easily join a cherry blossom tour.
Cherry blossom tours in Tokyo (and the rest of Japan), are a great way to take full advantage of Hanami, as you can benefit from local guides who know the best spots for festivals, events, and flower-gazing.
And there are plenty of tours depending on your specific interests; VELTRA has Tokyo tours that include the Watarase Railway (the train literally moves through tunnels of overhanging cherry blossoms), viewing from Mt Fuji, as well as river cruises, temples, and shrines.
Click here to check out more Tokyo cherry blossom tours.
How About Those Japanese?
At a first glance, Japanese locals tend to be shy and introverted, though once you start making an effort to interact, you will find them very friendly and amicable. They will go out of their way to help you.
From my time in Japan, I remember stopping to ask a girl for directions to the nearest subway station. She didn’t speak any English but walked with me all the way to show me the station.
I met a Japanese man at an overnight bus from Tokyo to Kyoto and we became friends. He offered to host me at his tiny apartment for a few days. Instances such as these made my journey very pleasant, and were incredibly heartwarming.
Japan is a very organized country, and I have never witnessed anything quite like it elsewhere. It is often quoted as one of the safest and cleanest places in the world. They don’t throw garbage on the streets (only cherry blossoms!)
I joked with my friends that cleanliness overtook as their religion.
Photos From Past Cherry Blossoms Trips to Japan
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This article has been updated since its original publication, by Mapping Megan, to be relevant for 2020. Images that have appeared in previous versions of this post are credited as follows: Yoshikazu TAKADA. Reginald Pentinio, kaybee07, Sirawat Kittisuphat. Pinterest image credit: Yoshikazu TAKADA (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.
We so want to make it to Japan this year for the cherry blossoms!
I hope you do have the chance Hannah – you guys take amazing photos, so I would love to see your pics from experiencing the Cherry Blossoms!
The boat rides (kayaks?) on the river surrounded by trees looks AWESOME! What a fun way to experience such an iconic adventure!
Doesn’t that look spectacular! It’s my favorite activity for this time of year :)
We were there (mainly in the Yaeyama islands in the South after Okinawa) in April and were surprised by how early the season starts down there – ie in January. Autumn’s also a colourful season to marvel at the colours but would love to see the cherry blossom season itself one day.
Hope you have the chance to head back and catch the season in full swing at some stage Stefan :) And totally agree that Autumn is also a spectacular time of year! So many reasons to visit in each different season for Japan!!
The blossoms along the river are just spectacular! How amazing it would be to take part in such a local custom. Timing the cherry blossoms is definitely on my Japan to-do list. :)
Maybe 2017 can be your year!
oh, Japan – one of my dream destinations! Cherry blossom makes the country look as if it was taken from the fairy-tale. Thank you for tips!
Totally agree with you – it’s like stepping into the pages of a real life storybook! Hope you have the chance to travel soon Natalia :)
This is a great post. I love that it talks about the history a bit. And I’m with LeAnna, I want to go boating with the blossoms. Great pics! What an amazing photo op.
Glad you enjoyed the post Carol! Hope you have the chance to take in a kayaking trip at some stage soon! :)
oh my gosh it literally looks amazing your pictures are insane. If I were planning a trip to Japan than for sure 100% I would go for cheery blossoms in the spring
Hope we’ve convinced you it’s a great destination for a trip :D!
I always love seeing the Cherry Blossoms in DC. Would love to see them in Tokyo!
You’ll love Tokyo then, Japan takes the season to a completely different level!
I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, but especially during cherry blossom season. Thanks for the train tip, that will make it easier to see more than one city when I’m finally able to go. :)
Absolutely Vicki! May as well take in as much of the country as possible while there – Japan is a truly diverse place and has so much to offer :) Happy travels!
Ever since I first saw cherry blossoms in Washington DC, the cherry blossoms of Japan have been on my bucket list. I like how there is a schedule you can refer to to help plan your trip. I will definitely keep this in mind for future planning.
You’ll love the season in Japan then, they really take the cherry blossom experience to a completely different level!
Some ideas for books to help plan a trip to Japan (they sure helped me last time I went!) https://www.lingualift.com/blog/japanese-travel-guides/
Thanks Marta! Will check out your recommended guides :)
Beautiful post. I too spent two weeks in Sakura season last year. Please read my experience on UltraWideLife.com
Thanks Ankur! So glad you enjoyed your time in Japan! Thanks for sharing your link :)
My favorite sakura spot has to be Chureito Pagoda, very iconic with a sight of Mount Fuji, red pagoda and cherry blossoms all in one view. Also, Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo simply can’t go wrong.
Thanks for the tips Andrew! Chureito Pagoda sounds like quite the incredible scenic spot – will add it to our list for the next cherry blossom trip!
Hi Meg, Looks like you had a great time. Good tips too from other commentators, Thought I would share a link with some great photos of Sakura cherry blossoms in Japan cheers and keep up the great work :)
Thanks for sharing your link Rich – such beautiful photos! Glad you enjoyed the post :)
Hello! This is such a wonderful post.. having stayed in Japan for over 4 years and thereby having visited many of the places whose photos you have mentioned, made me relive those days! Just thought of sharing some of the places that I feel are best for viewing the Sakura in Japan – https://www.placesinpixel.com/hanami-japan-cherry-blossom-festival/
Thanks for sharing your post Mainak, glad we could bring back some wonderful memories for you! :)
The Cherry Blossom during the spring is amazing.
We took spectacular photos and enjoyed a wonderful family trip.
So glad to hear you had a fabulous time in Japan – cherry blossoms truly is a spectacular season!
I just wrote an epic guide on visiting the Japan Cherry Blossoms in 2020 along with the forecast & best places to visit based on my experience of having experience the Hanami festival last year.
My first attempt at blog piece :) Hope your readers find it useful.
Thanks for sharing, and congrats on your first blog piece! Hanami truly is an incredible season, I can’t wait to see what the 2020 season brings!
Happy new year :)
Great post! You’ve managed to pack in a lot of detail in a relatively short read.
There’s some great tips in here too.
Very handy – even for us who have viewed the sakura!
A place I personally recommend for viewing the cherry blossom is Hirosaki. It’s not far from Aomori.
There are cherry trees surrounding Hirosaki Castle – so it makes for a stunning backdrop to the viewing.
As the blossom starts to fall the moat around the castle turns pink with all the fallen blossom. It’s stunning!
I posted some photos of Hirosaki durng sakura season here:
Glad to hear the article was helpful Rob! Thanks for the tip on Hirosaki, I’ll have to add it to my list for our next trip :)
So many sensational places around the country especially during this season. Thanks for sharing your link!