- I was there: at the end of March 2013, 5 days.
- Time needed: as much as you can.
- My score: 5/5, I did not get tired, nor will I get tired of seeing it.
The Sakura Hanami, which literally means “look at the cherry blossoms”, is one of the favorite events, if not the most important, in this nation. Although it only lasts about 15 days, the beauty of it is such that for Japanese the effort to plant and care for cherry trees throughout the country is worthy, and so enjoy this show anywhere.
The tradition of contemplating flowers dates back to the eighth century. Initially, plum was more popular, but between the ninth and twelfth centuries it yielded the first place. It was not until the Edo era that it acquired its definitive impulse; nobles became more fond of this tradition, which common people imitated, and the samurai adopted the cherry blossom as one of its symbols, considering that just as their petals fall before withering, a true samurai should fall in its splendor.
Picnic areas are enabled in almost all areas where these trees are concentrated and millions of people (more than 30 each year) go out with friends, family or colleagues to enjoy this magnificent event, dedicating hours a day. Often a member of the group has to get up early to keep a good spot for others.
At night it continues by lighting multiple white / pink lanterns, and its called Yozakura.
There are more than 100 varieties of cherry trees in Japan, whose flowers vary from very white to very pink, with different sizes and shape of petals. The most frequent is the Somei-Yoshino variety.
WHEN TO GO
The flowering of the cherry trees changes every year, depending on the climatic conditions, and also varies according to the place, since although Japan is a country with little surface, it is very long, and the climate oscillates from the tropical islands in Okinawa till the almost polar cold continental weather in Hokkaido. It begins approximately at the beginning of March in Okinawa, March and April in most of the territory and end of April or beginning of May in the north. Every year, the national meteorology office announces the blossoming forecast (sakurazensen) for that season.
They told me about a backpacker who planned his trip by matching his itinerary with Sakura throughout the country; I do not only think that it was something extremely professional, but I can not imagine and at the same time I envy the aesthetic perfection of what his trip had to be.
Me, I only saw it in Tokyo, but I saw it very well, since my friend Pana considered that Akihabara, Odaiba or Shibuya were not going to change from one time of the year to another, but since Sakura had coincided with our stay in Tokyo, we should take advantage and see it in more places better.
This is probably the most famous place in Tokyo and one of the most popular in the country to go to Hanami, although it is not my favorite, neither because of the distribution of the trees, nor because of how busy it is. It has approximately 1000 cherry blossoms of slightly pinkish white flowers. Most are next to wide asphalted walks, which in my opinion spoils some of the magic. There is also a part near Shinobazu Pond. It lights up at night until 8 pm.
This park in Asakusa is my favorite area. The cherry trees are grouped around minor temples and on both sides of the Sumida River. It is one of the longest and widest walks and you can get very good views of the Tokyo Sky Tree. Illuminated until 10 pm.
The best temple in Tokyo, also in Asakusa, does not have many trees in its vicinity, but the set of them together with the magnificence of this excellent temple, form unforgettable images.
The northwest bank of the Imperial Palace moat corresponding to Kitanomaru Park is one of the most beautiful spots to see Sakura in the city. Several hundred cherry trees line both sides of the moat, forming an idyllic walk on the west side and a wonderful canal with trees on both sides where you can rent boats. Picnics are not allowed. It lights up until 10 pm.
Open from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Closes Mondays (but does not close during Sakura). Admission 200 ¥.
This public park in Shinjuku is a very good option to contemplate the flowers. Although there are fewer cherry trees (400 of the Somei-Yoshino variety), the fact of having to pay attracts very few visitors compared to Ueno park or Sumida river bank.
For us it was enough to see the Hanami in these places, but for those who want even more, or stay in areas far from these points, Yoyogi, Asukayama and Inokashira parks are also recommended, and in Koishikawa area there are two, the Botanical Garden and Korakuen. In any case, there are cherry trees scattered throughout many areas of the city, including the artificial Odaiba.