Japanese Cherry Blossom Fever 2018

Japanese Cherry Blossom Fever 2018

By Freedom Ahn

It’s springtime in Japan and that means cherry blossom season is near.

As plum blossoms (the season’s first blooms) begin to reach outward toward to the sun - and as hay fever tablets hit drugstore shelves - it’s hard to believe that just six weeks ago, Tokyo’s first snowstorm in four years delivered a winter punch powerful enough to delay trains, buses, and cancel flights. But today snow is the last thing on people’s minds as cherry blossom fever begins to spread across the country, and around the globe.

Sakura against a backdrop of Fuji-san Nishi-Hirabatake Park. Image by: TANAKA Juuyoh

 Chidori-ga-fuchi, Kitanomaru Park at Chiyoda-ku in Tokyo. Image by:  Yoshikazu TAKADA

Chidori-ga-fuchi, Kitanomaru Park at Chiyoda-ku in Tokyo. Image by: Yoshikazu TAKADA

Sakura at Kanda Shrine. Image by: James Justin

Despite its short season - the earliest Japanese cherry blossom trees (sakura) begin to bloom in southern Japan in late March with the last petals typically falling to the ground in mid-May in the north - the humble cherry blossom holds an important place in Japanese society. 

Each January, the meteorological society releases the Japanese cherry blossom forecast as sakura enthusiasts everywhere begin to make their plans for the traditional hanami festival.

Hanami : the Japanese Cherry Blossom Flower Viewing Festival

Translating literally into 'flower viewing' (Hana - flower; mi - viewing) the practice of hanami dates back to the Nara period (710-794 AD) when the plum tree’s (ume) early flowers got all the attention. But as the Heian Period (794-1185) came into full bloom, and as formal diplomatic relations with China ceased, the Japanese cherry blossom took on a special appreciation among the aristocracy as the country began to focus more on local culture and environment.

But it wasn’t until the late 1600’s when the eighth shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune planted Japanese cherry blossom trees in public places that the practice of hanami became popular with the general public. Some of the public hanami venues created by Yoshimune - including Koganei, Gotenyama, Mokojima, and Asukayama - remain popular spots to view Japanese cherry blossoms today. 

Cherry Blossom Forecast 2018. Twitter: @wm_sakura_en

Hanami and cherry blossom viewing. Image by: Luca Mascaro

The Best Spots to see Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Choosing the best hanami spots in Japan is almost impossible with every part of the country offering a special, and everyone having their personal favourites. Here are mine: 

Nishi Park, Fukuoka

Late March

In late March the Japanese cherry blossoms bloom in Fukuoka. Believed to be some of the most beautiful blooms in the country, blossoms are expected to be at their peak in early April this year. Nishi Park, a sprawling, hillside expanse with breathtaking views of Hakata Bay, Nishi park delivers great hanami, along with trails for walking and irresistible food sold from local vendors. Enjoy sakura for as far as your eyes can see with panoramic views from one of three observation platforms in the park.

Koganei Koen Park

Late March to Late April

In the western part of Tokyo, you’ll find Koganei Park, a large public park known for its 1,500-plus Japanese cherry blossom trees (including the Sakura-no-sono cherry orchard), as well as the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural museum. Koganei not only offers a great place to get together, its trees typically bloom anywhere from a few days to a week later than central Tokyo, providing an opportunity to catch the cherry blossoms if you miss them in other locations. 

Himeji Castle

Early April

Himeji Castle, the country’s largest castle, might just be the best spot to enjoy Japanese cherry blossoms. Reopened in 2015 following an extensive five-year rejuvenation process, Himeji is surrounded by nearly 1,000 sakura trees including Shidarezakura and Yamazakura. With a cherry blossom forest comprised mainly of Shidarezakura trees, past and present combine to give a truly one-of-a-kind sakura viewing experience.

Sakura at night. Image by: Mario Lu

Sakura blooming. Image by: Mr Hayata

Ueno Park

Early April

One of the most famous spots to see Japanese cherry blossoms is Tokyo’s Ueno Park; it’s also one of the most crowded! People make the pilgrimage to Ueno from all over the country to see the thousands of lush sakura trees. Bring your blanket and enjoy a picnic under a spring canopy of pink. You can also enjoy some local treats from one of the many festivals that take place in Ueno.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Early April

Shinjuku is so much more than just a place to shop for trendy goods. Located in the heart of central Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen bursts with more than 1,500 blooming Japanese cherry blossom trees, many of which are still flowering well into mid-April. You’ll enjoy plenty of room to stretch out while soaking up the calm, peaceful atmosphere. And as an alcohol-free zone, it’s ideal for children!

Sakura at Himeji Castle. Image by: Gamemall104

Sakura at Shinjuku-gyoen, Tokyo. Image by: Amy Jane

A Country In Bloom

Whether you're a repeat visitor to Japan or still planning your first trip, chances are you’ve heard about Japanese cherry blossoms. These small, delicate, short-lived flowers are ubiquitous when it comes to Japanese culture and society. From drinks to snacks, from baked goods to books, when it comes to selling Japan everyone is cashing in on the Japanese cherry blossom craze! 

You probably already know about the special issue sakura KitKat bars - but it doesn’t stop there. 

Starbucks is offering an assortment of “sakura goods” such as travel mugs, cups, water bottles, thermos containers, and more. And you can fill them up with seasonal treats such as the Sakura Strawberry Pink Milk Latte, the Sakura Strawberry Pink Tea, or the wickedly enticing Sakura Strawberry Pink Mochi Frappuccino.

Sakura matcha KitKats. Image by: Stefanyus_Aryawan

Starbucks cherry blossom latte

Fancy something a little stronger? No problem! Asahi beer is offering a sakura-themed “special package” for their Asahi Super Dry and Sankt Gallen Brewery has come up with their own Sakura Beer.

So whether you’re looking to take some great photos, enjoy the company of good friends, or just soak up the local vibe, Japanese cherry blossom season offers something for everyone. So what are you waiting for? Grab your Starbucks Sakura Latte and let’s go to hanami!