No spring visit to Japan is complete without the wonder of sakura or cherry blossoms. At the end of each winter forecasts are published about peak blooms throughout Japan for the upcoming sakura season. The forecast for 2017 is here.
The blossoms mark the beginning of spring and also symbolize renewal. The blooms are short lived however and last only a few weeks. Sakura blossoms are a prevalent symbol in Japan and are often seen in art work, carved into furniture and talked about in poetry. Viewing cherry blossoms (hanami) is a big deal in Japan. People pack picnics and spread out blankets early in the day to get a good spot for their lunch underneath the blossoming trees in parks. One of the most popular places to picnic under sakura trees is in Ueno Park in Tokyo, but if you want a spot, get there early! Recommended places around Tokyo for cherry blossom viewing are here. There are many great areas outside of Tokyo to view blossoms as well.
Be prepared for sakura overload during the spring season, you will find cherry blossom inspired drinks served at Starbucks, cherry blossom desserts, cherry blossom home decor items,,= cherry blossoms on socks and other clothing items and lots of pink all around!
Over the course of the time we lived in Japan we experienced the rhythm of seasons by returning to several sakura viewing locations every spring.
Taura Ume (plum) Grove
Ok, so these are not actually cherry blossoms, but the blossoms on ume or plum trees are also beautiful and appear earlier (usually February-March) than the blossoms on cherry trees so they were the sign that sakura season was about to begin. There was a grove of ume trees in Taura not far from where we lived that was accessible by an easy hike. The blossoms are a lighter pink in color and smaller than the cherry variety.
Miurakaigan Train Station
You may not think that a train station has much to offer as far as natural beauty, but the sakura blossoms on the trees outside Miurakaigan Train Station were always spectacular. Their deep rich pinks and pretty pink paper lantern had us coming back every year.
Nakameguro is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo, full of unique boutiques, cafes and restaurants. A canal flanked by cherry trees cuts through the neighborhood and during the sakura season the trees literally hang dripping with pink blossoms over the canal, truly stunning!! Views from the bridges crossing the canal provide iconic photos for any sakura experience. Photos of the canal are always part of any recommended list of sakura viewing sites in Tokyo.
Unfortunately the year we went to Nakameguro to see the sakura blossoms we went a bit too late and a lot of the blossoms had already fallen so the views were not as good as the are during peak blossom time. During that visit we did find an amazing ramen place though! If you are in Nakameguro and want to try a “not your grandmas” ramen, check out Afuri, the citrus ramen is unique and a great twist on more traditional ramen.