What comes to mind when we think of cherry blossoms? For me, it would be the beautiful Japan. If you’ve been following me for a long time, you’d know I visited Japan back in 2016, also around the same time. I’ve been wanting to visit Japan again since and embrace the season this time around. Last year, I decided 2019 would be the year I visit Japan. But it is to no surprise, this decision came pretty last minute and spontaneous. This time, I made sure to overload my sensories with shades of pink visuals and floral aroma in the air.
In this guide, I’ll provide all the best places to view those cherry blossoms as well as some tips when in Japan. If you have any additional comments or questions, make sure to comment below!
When to visit the cherry blossoms
Cherry blossom season is between mid-March until mid-April every year. However, the exact dates do vary between regions in Japan.
I booked my ticket 3 months before my trip, after seeing the first few forecasts from different websites. This is considered late booking as most hotels are full. You can use last year’s blossom dates as a basis if you need to book way in advance.
I use this website as a forecaster on the cherry blossoms dates and check frequently for the date change and be flexible with planning:
The dates are not always accurate but it is very close. You can see which region will peak earlier or has finished and plan your trip for different regions accordingly.
If you’re coming to Japan to view these cherry blossoms, you can learn how to enjoy it, just like the locals. Cherry blossom season is also called Hanami Season which is a very popular tradition. Hanami is a Japanese term referring to having a picnic with your friends and family under a cherry blossom tree. It’s quite simple. You find a cherry blossom tree at a park or garden and set up as how you would for a picnic.
You can find bento boxes that are packed lunches at different stands, restaurants, and markets to bring. It also gets quite chilly during this time of the year, so dress warmly by layering up remove those layers as it gets warm in the sun. Bring a unique object to use as a centerpiece so your friends can find you easily in the sea of picnic-goers. Also, depending on where you experience hanami, some parks or garden requires an entrance fee.
Japanese Yen (¥)
If you’re not familiar with the dollar in Japan, they use Japanese Yen (¥). There are a lot of money exchanger stands in the cities but be sure to check around first and compare the rates before you exchange it. For the most part, Japan accepts credit cards at a lot of places, but smaller shops and even some train stations will only accept cash. You can bring your debit card and withdraw from any of the ATMs which can be cheaper. That’s what I did. Be sure to check with your bank for international withdrawal fees.
How to get around
The train is the best transportation available in Japan and it’s very convenient to use.
Depending on which train lines you need to take, you can transfer without leaving the station. For the entire trip, I used Google Maps because it shows me which lines to take and the cost. If you’re planning on traveling between cities such as Tokyo to Kyoto, look into purchasing a JR Pass.
A JR Pass starts at $276 for 7 days, but the cost of a one-way ticket on the Shinkansen (Japan’s bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto is 13 320 yen ($125), so a round trip would make up for 90% of the JR Pass. For 7 days, you can take any train line and busses part of the JR Pass. Be sure to download their pdf maps of Tokyo and Kyoto so you know which lines you can use.
No doubt, that even in this bustling city full of people, there are still breathtaking corners enough for cherry blossoms to bloom. You can see them as you walk on the streets, by the river and especially at different parks. Occasionally, you’ll see some cool JDM cars too!
Where to stay
Cherry blossoms season is the most popular season to visit Japan; At three months out, about 80% of hotels were booked. The ones remaining were pricey and Airbnb didn’t make sense for the two of us as it would be the same price of the available hotels. We snatched a pretty reasonable deal to stay at Premier Hotel Cabin in Shinjuku for four nights.
Getting around Tokyo is easy with the train system as their main transportation. I recommend staying near the main stations in one of the popular prefectures such as Shibuya or Shinjuku to avoid taking multiple connections.
Where to view the cherry blossomsMeguro River This is the river that flows through Tokyo and highly popular at all hours of the day. If you follow Google Maps from the train station, it will lead you to one end of the river. Start your stroll there and you’ll find yourself in awe as you’re walking down the path. Cherry blossoms are lined on both sides of the rivers as well as shops and restaurants. If the cherry blossoms are in full bloom during your visit, the river will be filled with fallen petals, and it’s just lovely.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
If you’re ready to see all sorts of cherry blossoms of different colors and types, this would be the place. There is an entrance fee of 200 yen ($2). It gets very crowded, and lines form before the opening hour so get there early and expect to spend quite some time there. Be sure to pack your lunch and pick your favorite tree to have hanami. Amongst other hanami goers, you’ll witness wedding shoots, girls in beautiful dresses, a group of friends and happy couples in all directions, but there is enough space for everyone.
This is the famous park where you can rent a boat to row down the river of cherry blossoms. I think it’s quite romantic and a nice experience, aside from seeing others struggling to row their boat. The line to rent the boat is extremely long during peak season. I arrived there at 9 am and waited for two hours. I suggest getting there earlier around 7:30 am if you want to get the first few boats at opening hour. Bring some cash. You’ll use the machine to purchase your tickets when you get towards the front of the line. The cost of a boat is 800 yen for 30 minutes and 160 yen for 1 hour. However, if rowing boats aren’t your thing, still take a stroll through the park and admire all the cherry blossoms here.
I wrote it correctly. It is a cemetery, but the pathway where the cars drive through the street is just beautiful; it’s like driving through a tunnel of cherry blossoms trees. Although it is a nice location for pictures, please respect the location as it is a cemetery, a place of peace for the dead.
- teamLab Borderless
- Famous Shibuya Crossing
- Chureito Pagoda
- Nabano no Sato
KYOTOWe took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto which took a little over three hours but this would be the fastest way besides flying. Kyoto is my favorite city of Japan, it still has the old vintage Japanese architecture. This would also be the place you will see a lot of locals and tourists dress from casual to exquisite styles of kimonos. To me, this is a world where old meets new.
Where to stay
I recommend staying somewhere in Shimogyo Ward because it’s close to Higashioji Dori, which is the main street leading to the local attractions. In the surrounding area, only busses run, and depending on the route, the buses turn. Check on Google Maps for the bus routes to avoid overpaying. The farther you get from the area, there will be trains to take you to other prefectures in Kyoto or out of town. The closer you stay to Higashiyama Ward, the pricier it can get.
Unlike Tokyo, I had more options when booking three months out. I ended up reserving my stay at River East Nanajo and would highly recommend it! It’s an apartment-style accommodation and very spacious for the price it is. The owner is so nice and stored our luggage since we arrived early. When we came back, our luggage was already in our room.
Where to view the cherry blossomsJust like Tokyo, there are parks and gardens that you can enjoy a day under a cherry blossom tree. However, during my trip to Kyoto, I passed by a few I briefly remembered but did not take a walk through them. I was more interested in visiting the old towns of Kyoto where there are cherry blossoms all around!
Shimogyo WardAs mentioned earlier, walking through this ward is like a time machine. The shops, restaurants, and overall vibe have the old Japan instilled. This is where you’ll see people dressed in kimonos and a whole lot of wedding photography. In the center of this ward, you’ll find Hokanji Temple which has been a popular staple for pictures. There’s a Starbucks here that is a must-visit, it’s completely different than any other Starbucks in the world!
I did walk through this and I imagined it to be fully bloomed and quite a stroll. However, this area had finished blooming before I got there, so I didn’t take any pictures. I just walked through to enjoy whatever was left, but I’ve seen pictures of it in full bloom. It is just gorgeous, and you can find an old boat on the river for pictures.
It’s a Buddhist temple that’s down the street from Shimogyo Ward and underrated. The entrance alone is stunning with a huge cherry bloom tree that’s quite hard to miss. Then, as you enter, you cross a nice bridge leading you up to the temple.
One of the prefectures that require a train and some time to get there. However, It is gorgeous and is a beautiful town to explore. I had only a short morning here so I went straight to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. If you have the chance, plan a longer stay to explore the beauty and the cherry blossoms around it. Kimono Forest is located at the Randen Arashiyama Station, which is also a must-visit that I forgot to do on my trip.
Sagano Torokko (Scenic Railway)
This was what I spent the other part of my morning when I was in Arashiyama. I quickly came back to the Saga-Arashiyama Station after the bamboo forest to be one of the first to get tickets for the Segano Torokko. Being one of the first, I got to sit in the open car which has full visibility of the cherry blooms and river views. Unfortunately, all the cherry blossoms had finished blooming when we went but it was still scenic to see the famous blue river that flows through Kyoto. I bought only a one-way ticket for this train to take a connecting JR line to the outskirts of Kyoto after. That was where I would spend the remainder of the day relaxing at a Ryokan.
Nara Deer Park
This is one of the coolest things to do in Kyoto. It does require some travel time to get to Nara, but it’s totally worth it. When you arrive at Nara Station, you’ll be greeted with shops selling deer-related items and food. When you make your way to the deer park, deers will also greet you and depending on the time of the day, they will also be hungry and expecting food. You can buy these circular crackers from the stands on the street, but to be honest, these deers do get tired of eating it. When I was in the park, a Japanese man gave me a handful of these little nuts which attracted so many deers to me. When you go during this time, you’ll see a mixture of cherry blossoms and deers everywhere and it’s something you won’t see anywhere else.
There are a lot of traditional restaurants in Kyoto so be sure to search up before you go, as a lot of places are only in Japanese. There’s a place called Owariya which is a 540-year old Soba restaurant that’s a must-try!
While you’re in Kyoto, check out some of these places as well:
- Arashiyama Monkey Park
- Fushimi Inari
On this trip, I did visit Osaka but not for cherry blossom viewing. On this trip, my boyfriend had to meet his partners in the car industry, so we enjoyed Osaka differently. We were at car shops, hanging out with his partners, and going to dinner with them. Unfortunately, my boyfriend started to fall ill with a fever and needed some rest. We did manage to visit Osaka Castle briefly before taking the last Shinkansen back to Tokyo. It’s a true beauty and I hope next time I get to spend more time in Osaka to explore a bit more.
Enjoy planning your future trip for Japan’s cherry blossom season and I have no doubt you’ll love it.
I’ll be sharing some more tips and places for Japan to prepare you for the next cherry blossom season in the upcoming blog posts.
On top of that, I’ll be releasing my full itinerary that took months to curate, for purchase. This will include exact pin points on Google Maps for all the Instagram locations, underrated/unknown locations that only the locals will know, and locations of where my pictures were taken. On top of that, I will also provide all the best places to eat and explore with extensive tips. Keep a lookout!
Love how I edit these pictures? Check out my presets developed from this trip by clicking here.