Dive into a sea of pink as Japan welcomes the springtime tradition of cherry blossom viewing.
Hanami, which literally translates to “flower viewing”, is a quintessential part of Japanese culture celebrating the transient beauty of these blooms.
In most cases, it refers to the country’s famous sakura (cherry) or ume (plum) blossom season, where locals and tourists alike gather under the flowering trees to enjoy a leisurely picnic or two.
New to the idea of hanami? Here’s a quick guide for you.
When is it happening
Because Japan takes its cherry blossom season pretty seriously, it has an official forecast site courtesy of the Japan Meteorological Corporation. This year, flowering is expected to start around March 18, with full bloom slated for March 26. The detailed forecast estimates the flowering and full bloom dates for somei yoshino (yoshino cherry) trees in approximately 1,000 cherry blossom viewing locations in cities including Tokyo, Sapporo, and Kagoshima.
Where to view cherry blossoms
With a good mix of architecture, nightlife, and delicious street food, Osaka is a hot favorite among locals and tourists alike during the hanami season. Must-sees include the modern reconstruction of 16th-century Osaka Castle, as well as Sumiyoshi-taisha, which is among Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines.
Best viewing period: April 5-11
Top viewing spots: Kema Sakuranomiya Park, Osaka Castle
The capital of Fukuoka Prefecture sits on the northern shore of Japan’s Kyushu Island and is renowned for its ancient temples, beaches, and modern shopping malls, including Canal City. It is also home to the ruins of the 17th-century Fukuoka Castle.
Best viewing period: April 1 to 7
Top viewing spots: Maizuru Park, Uminonakamichi Seaside Park, Atago Shrine
Located in south-central Honshu, Nara is a hot spot for majestic temples and artwork dating to the 8th century, when it was Japan’s capital. Don’t leave without seeing the deer roam free in Nara Park or the 15-meter-high bronze Buddha in Todai-ji temple.
Best viewing period: April 6-12
Top viewing spots: Nara Park, Koriyama Castle Ruins
Once the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is famed for its classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines, and traditional wooden houses. If you’re lucky, you might even spot geisha in the Gion district.
Best viewing period: April 5-11
Top viewing spots: Philosopher’s Path, Maruyama Park
A seamless blend of the ultramodern and the traditional, Tokyo is a must-visit for any first-time traveler to Japan. Immerse yourself in the art and culture of the city by heading to the many museums, as well as the opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine.
Best viewing period: 29 March-April 4
Top viewing spots: Shinjuku Gyoen, Ueno Park, Chidorigafushi
What to eat
1. Hanami dango
Made with sweetened rice flour or glutinous rice flour, hanami dango is an iconic tri-color sweet with a mochi-like texture. Coated in various shades of pink for the cherry blossom season, these morsels are a delightful treat.
2. Cherry blossom cookies
Almost too pretty to eat, cherry blossom cookies are crispy and buttery, with salt-pickled cherry blossoms on top. Some shops also decorate the cookies with sparkling sugar to make them even more photo-worthy.
3. Temari sushi
Perfect for a hanami viewing picnic, temari sushi are casual, ball-shaped sushi that can be easily made by amateurs. Balls of sushi rice are topped with all sorts of ingredients you might find on traditional sushi, including sea bream, salmon, and tuna sashimi.
4. Cherry blossom milk pudding
Popular among the younger crowd, cherry blossom milk pudding is a melt-in-your-mouth treat that’s great for bringing to picnics. The silk-smooth pudding is made from milk and then topped with a layer of salty-sweet cherry blossom jelly.