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.
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.