Everything you need to know about Hanami and other cherry blossom festivals around the world.
Every year in Japan the path of cherry blossoms is followed as the flowers bloom around the country. The tradition has spread around the world and now cherry blossom festivals of different kinds as well as dedicated cherry blossom tours can be found almost everywhere.
However, few can rival the festivities in Japan where the symbolism and popularity make it a key part of the social calendar, popular among visitors and locals alike.
Cherry blossom festival in Japan
The cherry blossom festival in Japan follows the cherry blossom front, as blooms open around the country, spreading from the southern island of Kyushu in late March up to Hokkaido in mid-May. They only last for a few weeks and generally move across Japan in a band spreading from the south to the north.
In 2017, the Japan cherry blossom season is expected to extend from April to May.
The spread is followed by meteorological agencies, news bureaus and naturally a lot of cherry blossom parties, part of what is now a centuries-old tradition. Thanks to the cherry blossom’s cultural significance, it’s possible to trace back the opening and peak blooms hundreds of years, based on old diary entries, and pick out the cold periods and the warmer seasons.
In recent years trends have shifted towards earlier openings, with Tokyo starting the 2017 season ahead of other areas, and ahead of schedule.
The meaning of cherry blossoms
Hanami, or flower viewing, is all about enjoying the temporary beauty of flowers as they bloom and disappear and about celebrating the end of winter and the arrival of warm weather.
The origins can be traced back to well over a thousand years ago when poets of the time would see the blossoms as a metaphor for humanity itself, with each flower being unique in its own way yet fated to a short life.
Sakura, as it came to be called, referred to the celebration of life beneath the cherry trees. Today the symbolism remains and yozakura (literally night sakura) refers to the cherry blossom parties that can be found around Japan.
When is Japan’s cherry blossom season?
The two key times are the first blooms (mentioned above) with full bloom usually coming a couple of weeks later. This is when the parties are in full swing and the viewing is at its best. The times for both change each year, with warmer weather usually signalling an earlier opening.
Where to see cherry blossoms in Japan
Cherry blossoms in Tokyo
The Imperial Palace in Tokyo, as well as a number of famous gardens, present a range of opportunities and space for everyone in this world city.
Whether you’re looking for a picturesque tour of the cherry blossoms or a more full-on Hanami party, you can find them both. Numerous organised tours operate specifically to see the cherry blossoms which can help you maximise your experience.
Many popular day spots turn into party destinations at night and some of the best cherry blossom spots include:
- Inokashira Park. The spectacular blossoms are accentuated by the lakeside spot, where you can rent a pedal boat to take in the sights from the water. Situated near features like the Ghibli museum and other gardens, this spacious park can present a more serene experience.
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The classic pagodas, old fashioned bridges and lake houses in this garden accentuate the cherry blossoms and deliver a range of great photo opportunities, making it a popular place for tourists and locals alike.
- Sumida Park. This park is famous specifically for its cherry blossoms, while its size lends itself perfectly to long walks among the flowers. You can see the famous Tokyo Sky Tree monument from within the park, and once the sun goes down it often hosts firework displays and other festivities.
- Ueno Park. This park is one of Tokyo’s most popular spots for cherry blossom parties and is widely known as a must-see for visitors both within and without cherry blossom season as it includes the Ueno Zoo, the Tokyo National Museum and Art Museum Festival Hall. The wide range of temples that can also be found within presents an unforgettable experience. The official Ueno cherry blossom festival period runs as long as the flowers are open.
Cherry blossoms in Kyoto
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The Kiyomizu-dera Temple (temple of clear water) was named after the mountain stream from a spring above the temple, turning into the Otowa Waterfall within the temple grounds. Other than this, one of the main features of the immense temple is the sprawling verandah that offers an impressive view of not only the cherry blossoms, but also the Kyoto floodplains below.
- Kyoto Gosho. The Imperial Palace in Kyoto features an impeccably designed garden for taking in the cherry blossoms, as well as both historical and cultural interest. The palace used to serve as the seat of power and still sees use in a range of ceremonies.
- The Philosopher’s Walk. A two-kilometre path that winds alongside a river, taking you past five significant temples and two shrines, laced with cherry blossoms along the way, for a serene combination of natural and historical beauty.
- Kyoto Botanical Gardens. Considered by many to be the best botanical garden in Japan, this is naturally one of the more renowned cherry blossom destinations. However, the blossoms are only one of the many natural attractions to be found on the 24-hectare site, among more than 12,000 other kinds of spectacular plants, in these gardens that were designed to be enjoyed.
Cherry blossoms in Osaka
Osaka is one of Japan’s main destination cities and is used to hosting visitors drawn by its rich history and stunning beauty, both natural and man-made. Some of the top cherry blossom spots, and Sakura party venues, are built around these.
- Osaka Castle Park. An enormous park built around the imposing Osaka Castle is also one of the region’s top tourist destinations. It’s widely visited all year round, but in cherry blossom season it takes on a new splendour as the blossoms open around the castle’s stone walls and turrets, and more events start running.
- Expo 70 Park. Opened in 1970 for Osaka Expo, the Expo Park doesn’t have the same history as other sites, but was designed to be practical, easy to get to and specifically intended to showcase cherry blossoms at their best with more than 5,000 cherry trees in the area. It’s a popular sakura spot that’s easy to get to and features plenty of food stalls to sample while you’re there.
- Japan Mint. The Osaka office, in operation since 1871, is the main branch of Japan’s mint. It’s a great place for visitors thanks to being a fascinating spot in itself, hosting a mint museum and being deliberately designed to showcase cherry blossoms at their finest.
Cherry blossom tours in Japan
Cherry blossoms in Australia
While cherry blossoms aren’t as abundant in Australia, the largest Japanese garden in the southern hemisphere is in Cowra, NSW, and hosts its own Sakura Matsuri festival on 23 September in 2017.
To enjoy cherry blossoms elsewhere you can head to Australia’s highlands in the southern areas around Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Peak bloom usually comes in mid-October and you’ll notice them here when planted in gardens, as small town street trees and elsewhere.
- The Cowra Gardens: The best cherry blossom garden in Australia and beyond is widely agreed to be in Cowra where five hectares are dedicated to a Japanese garden designed by Ken Nakajima, a renowned garden designer. It was built to symbolise the mending of relationships between Australia and Japan following World War II. These days it hosts its own annual cherry blossom festivals.
- Cherry blossoms in Melbourne: One of the best places to see cherry blossoms around Melbourne is the National Rhododendron Garden in the Dandenong Ranges. Here the flowers tend to come out at the end of September and the beginning of October, joining the great range of wildlife and other flora that can be found here.
- Cherry blossoms in Sydney: The Sydney Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in Auburn Botanical Gardens in an annual celebration of everything Japan and is held when the flowers open. It has yet to be scheduled for 2017, but in 2016 was in late August.
- Cherry blossoms in Perth: Kings Park and Botanical Garden in Perth is home to a number of cherry trees, as well as Perth’s annual cherry blossom festival. The garden is well worth a visit at any time, with the wildflower pavilion, lake views and more all doing their part to bring the park to life all year round.
- For cherry blossoms in particular, the time to see them, like in other areas, is generally around September.
Cherry blossoms in Korea
Cherry blossom season in Korea is a significant time of year, symbolising the end of winter much like it does elsewhere. If you’re in Korea around the end of March or start of April you can find numerous festivals around the country. Some of the most prominent include:
- Yeuido Cherry Blossom Festival: With 1,400 trees in full bloom, this is one of the most popular and accessible spots in Seoul to find hanami parties with street performers, vendors and a lot of entertainment.
- Seokchan Lake Cherry Blossom Festival: Also in Seoul, the cherry blossoms come out next to the Lotte World theme park to make a family-friendly day out for anyone.
- The Hwagae Cherry Blossoms Festival: Around the city of Daegu, cherry blossoms naturally come out along “Cherry Blossom Road” which is sometimes known as “Marriage Road” thanks to its popularity among couples.
- Jeju Cherry Blossom Festival: One rare opportunity to find the king cherry blossom, so named on account of its king-sized petals, is the Jeju festival, which is only in peak bloom for a few days and is located around the Seogwipo downtown area.
Cherry blossoms in the USA
- Cherry blossoms in Washington DC: Washington DC is home to countless cherry trees which bloom spectacularly in early April. If you’re planning to head to Washington, this is a great time to see many of the usual visitor spots like never before. The cherry blossom festival sprawls all over the more popular destinations, including East and West Potomac Park and the Washington Monument grounds, drawing visitors from all over the world for a combination of rich history and unbeatable natural beauty.
- Cherry blossoms in New York: New York is known as the world city, and would be remiss not to take full advantage of its own cherry blossom season. You can find cherry trees in Central Park and festivities typically occur between April and May, with parties at clubs all around the city and at gardens including at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens which runs a Sakura Matsuri festival to send off the flowers with a range of events to celebrate both contemporary and traditional Japanese culture. This typically happens at the end of April.