Spring Blossoms also known as Hanami marks the season where the cherry flowers (referred to as “Sakura” in Japanese) blossoms all over Japan. To understand the history of how this tradition originated and how it became a popular activity among locals, one must go all the way back to Heian period of Japan.
Sakura developed its prominence first among the Aristocratic families in Japan during the Heian period between the 8th and 12th centuries. But it was not until the 17th century (the Edo period) when Sakura began to gain a foothold among the common people.
Tokugawa Yoshimune planted numerous Sakura trees in various cities across Japan. All cherry blossom trees were planted using a technique called Tsugiki (Grafting). Most trees planted using this technique have identical DNA, which is why most Sakura in Japan blossom and fall around the same time.
To really appreciate the beauty of these colorful blossoming trees one must visit Japan during early to mid Spring. This falls in late March to mid April. Spring blossoms starts blooming early in the south (as early as in January in Okinawa island), and late in the north (late as May in Hokkaido).
I planned my 3 week trip to coincide with the blossoming schedule. My journey started in Tokyo and went all the way to the southern tip of Japan – Kagoshima.
Japan’s Weather sites https://tenki.jp/ is a good source for Cherry blossom forecast.
How you plan your travel?
First, in order to travel fast and comfortable you need to purchase the Japan Rail voucher before your arrival in Japan. I suggest buying a voucher for two weeks that costs around $400. This lets you travel unlimited on all Shinkansen bullet trains except on the super fast Nozomi class (travels at a blazing 300km/hr). It also covers travel in local metro trains in certain cities like Kyoto and Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry and transport to Narita airport in Tokyo.
A distance of 1353 KM between Tokyo and Kagoshima takes only seven hours by Shinkansen bullet train.
When should you activate your pass?
When you arrive in Japan you exchange your voucher for the actual Japan Rail pass. Once you activate your pass your two week clock starts immediately. Most travelers use Tokyo as their entry point when they arrive in Japan. My suggestion is that you don’t activate the pass immediately on your arrival in Tokyo (or Osaka). But instead take a few days to explore Tokyo and Kyoto. Otherwise you wasted the time on your pass.
The last day you leave Kyoto is when you should activate the pass. From Kyoto to Kagoshima and return back to Tokyo, it takes roughly about two weeks (essentially you do a loop around the southern part of Japan).
Here is my 3 week Itinerary for Japan to best see Sakura
- Tokyo – 3 days
- Ueno park
- Shrines and Japanese gardes around Kamakura
- Imperial Palace
- Kyoto – 4 days
- Kyoto is filled with Cherry blossom trees
- Kinkaku-ji, Ryoanji, Kennin-ji and other shrines
- Arashiyama park (bamboo garden is well worth a visit)
- Maruyama Park (best for cherry blossom viewing)
- Hike to Fushimi-Inari and walk through the 1000 gates
- Nara Park (witness the famous deer that bows to you)
- Osaka – 2 days
- Castle park
- Kobe – stop over (or a day trip from Osaka)
- Himeji – Stop over
- Many cherry trees line up the way to the Himeji palace
- Hiroshima & Miyajima – 2 days
- Around Peace park in Hiroshima and Ota river
- Itsukushima shrine in Miyajima
- Nagasaki – 2 days
- Peace park
- Spectacles bridge
- Kagoshima – 3 days
- Yoshino park
- Ibusuki (also check out the hot springs)
- Kanazawa – 1 day
- Castle park
- Back to Tokyo – 2 days
- End of trip