Spring always comes with an abundance of colors, fragrances and life. It’s a magical period for nature, and we can see this just by strolling the parks. However, we know for sure that spring is in the city, once we get to admire the beautiful and delicate pink and white blooms known all over the world as cherry blossom or sakura (cherry tree). This tradition of welcoming spring is referred to as ‘hanami’ and focuses on appreciating the short life-span of beauty in nature. Traveling to see cherry blossoms and/or partake in a cherry blossom festival can be a really fun activity but can be tricky to time the blooms.
The entire world is celebrating sakura, when cherries invade the streets with their serene colors and mesmerizing fragrance. From Japan to Washington D.C., cities all over the world organize festivals to praise the beauty of cherry blossom and celebrate spring.
The cherry blossom festivals around the world are based on the Japan custom of viewing blossoming plum trees, which has been celebrated since 700s. The celebrations were accompanied by music, sake and haiku writing, and kimono typical dresses.
It’s important to know that the cherry tree blooming cycle lasts for only one to two weeks, from the first buds opening to full bloom. However, its beauty lasts for a little longer. Since Mother Nature establishes the actual cherry blossom festival dates, you might not found out the exact dates until one week before the actual start of the festivals. However, you can take a look at the previous years and make an idea about the approximate time to plan your holiday.
The blossom is considered the national flower of Japan and the country’s huge population of cherry trees first come into bloom as early as January in Okinawa in the south of the country. Then gradually the blossoms further north follow suit, month by month. By March Tokyo starts to bloom. In April, it’s at its peak and the season continues its movement until May when Sapporo has its show.
The Japanese take blossom season seriously and a cherry blossom forecast is made each year by the Japan Weather Association. You can find this year’s on the National Tourism website along with a detailed list of exactly where and when to view the trees at their finest throughout the country. To name a few here, there is the beautiful cherry blossom tunnel at Japan Mint in Osaka and Ueno Park in Tokyo, where more than 1,000 trees surround the Shinobazu Pond and line the streets up to the National Museum. One of the best locations to view the blossom is said to be the Hirosaki Park, home to 2,600 blossom trees, some of them also forming tunnels in front of Hirosaki Castle. Festivals and festivities are held across the key blossom locations throughout the county, but if it’s Tokyo you’re headed to, make sure you go this month.
1. Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Festival, Himeji, Japan
As expected, Japan is the number one destination when it comes to cherry blossom. The amazing Himeji Castle, perched on a hill and looking like a heron, is the background of no less than 1,000 cherry trees. The festival dedicated to sakura lasts three days, and includes drum and harp performances, local food, casual picnics under the blossoms, and a ceremonial tea service. The castle complex includes over 80 buildings and dates back to early 1300s. Although the festival lasts for three days, the blooming period is spread over two weeks. Himeji is situated 60 miles northwest of Osaka, and you can get there via Sanyo rail line.
Don’t miss: the cherry blossoms at night
When to go: early April
2. Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival, Kitakami, Japan
If you decide to attend this festival, you’ll have the magnificent chance to view no less than 10,000 cherry trees. The trees are lined along a 1.4 mile pathway, located on the shore of the Kitakami River. The whole experience also includes romantic river cruises, waterside strolls and impressive lantern viewing once the sun sets.
Don’t miss: the nighttime lantern viewing and horse-carriage rides through a tunnel of cherry trees
When to go: mid April-early May
3. Matsumae Koen Park Cherry Blossom Festival, Matsumae Town, Japan
Let’s stay a little longer in Japan and visit the Matsumae Koen Park too, to admire its 10,000 cherry trees. This beautiful seaside town has as core the Matsumae Castle, a structure dating back to the 17th century, which impresses visitors with delicate, curved eaves. The surprise is that you will find more than 250 varieties of cherry trees, including the “weeping sakura” that looks like a willow, but has the flowers of a cherry tree. The festival includes local seafood, parades and even a karaoke contest.
Don’t miss: the local specialties, such as miso soup made with iwanori seaweed.
When to go: late April – mid May