Japan has an amazingly deferential relationship with nature, protecting the stunning environment that the islands of Japan home. One of the most intrinsically tied aspects of Japanese culture and nature is the cherry blossom phenomenon. If you have spent any time reading about, studying or visiting in Japan you will have seen the numerous references to the sakura season, one of the busiest and most beautiful parts of Japans nature worship.
If you are planning to travel to Japan it can seem overwhelming as to how to ensure you will be able to catch the 5-7 days when the blossoms are in full bloom, in all their glory. The way that the cherry blossom arrives in Japan is a sweeping front, starting in Kyushu in late March and ending in Hokkaido in late May. It is such an eagerly awaited part of the year that news channels and weather channels will put our their predictions as to exactly when full bloom will be reached.
This means that somewhere in Japan cherry blossom will be in full bloom between late March and May, giving you more opportunities to witness the spectacle. The tricky part of planning is that each year the full bloom dates can change, sometimes over a week in either direction, either earlier or later. This year (2017) the cherry blossom was about a week later than usual, due to a cold front, which meant we caught the bloom everywhere from Tokyo to Hiroshima. In terms of planning, due to differences in blooming sequence, we had only planned to catch the blossom in the Mount Fuji area. Although the five lakes area is further south than Tokyo, due to the mountainous surroundings the blossom tends to come about two weeks later. So it almost seems like planning isn’t always going to work!
In terms of trying to make sure you get to catch the blossom, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances. The first is research! Japan Guide have a whole section of their website devoted to tracking the blossom. Before booking my 2017 trip I looked at the blossoming times over the past few years and worked out an average, for Fuji this was that on average full bloom was reached on the 14th of April. As it can move a week either side I booked lodgings there from the 15th to 22nd, really hedging my bets!
The second thing you can do is be flexible. For example, if trying to hit full bloom in Tokyo, usually around 27-30 of March, book to stay there for a longer period, so from the 27 March -3 April for example. This means that if the bloom is late or early you should catch one end of full bloom. Another way of being flexible is being able to travel to different places on unscheduled days, for example staying in Tokyo but travelling to Fuji (for example) once Japan Guide have released the bloom report.
Enjoying the blossoms
Hopefully all the planning and flexibility has paid off and you have found yourselves some sakura *hooray*, now, enjoying it is the next step. In Japan viewing cherry blossoms in full bloom is called hanami- literally flower viewing. Doing this involves a few key ingredients, blue tarp (you will see this everywhere), alcohol, friends and cherry blossom themed foods. If you find a sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) they often have all of the above available. You can, of course, do it your own way but I think the Japanese have really got this down to a fine art.
Do remember that cherry blossom are even better to view at night, called yozakura. There are many places which won’t be closed that you can enjoy, illumated throughout the dark hours.