By Ken Hunter
AS Japan shivers through a cold winter, people’s thoughts start turning to spring. And when people think of spring in Japan, one thing springs to mind: hanami, or “cherry blossom viewing.”
Starting in Okinawa in January, the sakura zensen, or “cherry blossom front,” sweeps its way north through Japan before finishing in Hokkaido in May.
To help usher in spring, we’ve picked 10 of Japan’s best cherry blossom spots for you.
1. Nago Castle Park (Okinawa)
This park contains the ruins of 14th-century Nago Castle. The park also features thousands of cherry trees, which start to bloom as early as mid-January. Enjoy the view from the park’s hilltop observation deck.
5511 Nago, Nago-city, Okinawa.
2. Senkoji Park (Hiroshima)
Located on Mount Senkoji in Onomichi City, this park has almost 10,000 cherry trees. The park offers lovely views of the city and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. The cherry blossoms make their appearance in early to mid-April.
19-1 Nishi-Tsuchido-cho, Onomichi, Hiroshima.
3. Himeji Castle (Himeji)
The outer grounds of Himeji Castle, a Unesco world heritage site, contain hundreds of cherry trees that spring to life in early April. The castle is undergoing renovations, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the cherry blossoms.
68 Honmachi, Himeji.
4. Kema Sakuranomiya Park (Osaka)
Stroll along the river and enjoy this park’s 5,000 cherry trees. You can also see them by taking a river cruise. The park includes buildings belonging to the Japan Mint, another of Japan’s top cherry blossom spots.
Area including 1-chome, Nakano-cho, Miyakojima-ku, Osaka City.
5. Yoshinoyama (Nara)
With more than 30,000 cherry trees, Mount Yoshino reigns as king of the hill of Japan’s cherry blossom spots. The trees bloom in early to mid-April and create a stunning patchwork effect on the mountainside.
Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara.
6. Maruyama Park (Kyoto)
The most popular park in Kyoto for hanami, this park stars a large cherry tree lit up at night. You can enter the park through Yasaka Shrine. The cherry blossoms reach their peak near the beginning of April.
Yasaka-Maruyama, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto.
7. Takada Park (Niigata)
Another place famous for its illuminated cherry trees is this park in Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture. The park has more than 4,000 cherry trees, which start to bloom in early to mid-April.
Motoshiro-cho, Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture.
8. Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
This Tokyo park has more than 1,000 cherry trees, including late bloomers that help prolong hanami until late April. Shinjuku Gyoen also tends to have smaller crowds than Ueno Park, another popular cherry blossom spot in Tokyo.
11 Naito-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo.
9. Hirosaki Park (Aomori)
The park surrounding Hirosaki Castle features a triple moat, rowboats, picnic areas, and more than 2,500 cherry trees. The trees, which begin blooming in late April or early May, are also lit up at night.
1-1 Shimo-Shirogane-cho, Oaza, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori.
10. Goryokaku (Hokkaido)
This star-shaped fort in Hakodate was built in the 19th century. It became a park in 1913 and has blossomed into one of Hokkaido’s top hanami destinations. For a bird’s-eye view of the cherry trees, visit the 107-metre (351-foot) tall Goryokaku Tower, near the fort’s entrance. The best time to enjoy hanami is early to mid-May.
43-9 Goryokaku-cho, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture.
Do you have a favorite cherry blossom spot in Japan? Are there any spots you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below.
About the author…
Ken Hunter (Japan)
Ken Hunter is a freelance writer based in Japan, where he has lived since 2003. He enjoys writing about social media, tech, travel and other topics. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, circle him on Google+, and follow him on Twitter.